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My Problem With Obamacons

Some Obamacons have an irritating tendency to want to reduce the opposition of other conservatives to their champion to the question of race, as if it it’s otherwise inconceivable that those on the right would tend to prefer, given the choices, the less left-leaning candidate in the Democratic race. 

Thus, Sullivan wrote this evening:

Pennsylvania has barely elected a black or a female politician to state-wide office. But you know what tends to count most: race. There’s a reason Pat Buchanan has warmed to Clinton [bold mine-DL].

There is a reason, and it is the same reason why Mr. Buchanan reacted so strongly against the Clintons in ’92, which is his cultural conservatism.  However much he objected and still objects to the Clintons, he objects to the Obamas even more and for the same reasons.  There is no mystery here, but some Obamacons seem to have an interest in ignoring the actual reasons that Obama’s conservative critics give and want to impute to them prejudices that they do not have and flatly reject.  There are reasons Andrew Sullivan supports Obama, and the reasons are the ones that he has given in public.  I would think he would extend this courtesy to those he is criticising, since he had to defend himself repeatedly that his turn against the war in Iraq was not driven by anything other than his changed view on the war.         

One of the things that many conservatives have had to realise in the last 15 months is that Clinton and her husband really were from “a different kind of Democrats,” and Obama has been reminding them, us, what the Clintons were moving away from.  That doesn’t mean that they have become acceptable or desirable in themselves, because they haven’t.  This is the great irony of the entire campaign: Obama increasingly seems to represent a throwback to bygone days of an older liberalism, while it appears as if the Clintons have tried to learn, if only for self-seeking, tactical reasons (about this you’ll get no argument from me), to avoid the pitfalls of that tradition.  Because of the war, antiwar conservatives have found themselves gravitating towards Obama because he is supposed to represent something different from the hawkish “centrist” views that dominated the Democratic Party for the last decade or so, but as I have tried to stress again and again this is not so.  The one thing that some of the neoliberals got wrong, foreign policy, was the one thing Obama has chosen to imitate for the most part, while ignoring or discounting the neoliberal domestic policy shifts that were, in fact, reasonably successful.  This is also why, from an entirely different perspective, neoliberals such as Kaus are frustrated with Obama acting and speaking as if he were in a “time warp.”  

Those of us on the right, and I count myself among them, became strongly invested in hostility to the Clintons because they represented the legacy of the cultural left from the ’60s and ’70s (and they really did and do represent this), and cultural conservatives had defined themselves to a great extent by opposition to the social changes wrought during those decades.  However, the portrayal of the Clintons as ultra left-wingers obscured how much they did, in fact, differ from the actual ultra left-wingers.  In one sense, this has always made them more dangerous, because they offer a more politically viable kind of liberalism, but it has also opened them up to the progressive rebellion that now will almost certainly destroy their machine and their grip on the party.  As strange as it sounds, the Clintons represent the kind of liberalism that conservatives can at least live with, even if it still drives them up the wall, while the Obamas represent a liberalism that is much less accommodating to conservative views in its content, regardless of how accommodating its messenger seems to be. 

For this and other reasons, I think that Obamacons are making a mistake, and they are compounding it with the attitude some of them are showing towards conservatives, including antiwar conservatives, who have not “come to Obama.”  Until recently, it is one that I have been willing to criticise pretty mildly, but there is an unpleasant undercurrent to the phenomenon that suggests that those who do not likewise embrace the new era must be hung up on Obama’s race, as if there were no other reasons to oppose him, when it is fair to say that his supporters seem to be at least as preoccupied with it as, if not more so than, everyone else.  So even if the arguments made on behalf of Obama are sometimes strikingly superficial, it is instead his opponents who are deemed racist even though they are the ones advancing arguments against his policy views.  This has become a pretty intolerable double standard, and it is one that Obama’s boosters have been applying too often.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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