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by Christopher Chantrill
February 19, 2008 at 11:41 pm
LAST WEEK several conservative columnists, with one voice, declared presidential candidate Barack Obama an empty suit. At least, they reckoned that his speechifying demonstrated an astonishing lack of content.
Charles Krauthammer complained about the idea of getting people to pay with their votes for something that ought to be audaciously free: hope. John Hawkins called Obama an empty suit who excites gullible dimwits by reciting words like hope and change. Barack is old wine in a new bottle, reckoned Mona Charen, an utterly conventional, down-the-line liberal Democrat.
You could say that the Obama operation acts like any up-and-coming winery, selling an ordinary wine with a colorful label that really jumps off the shelf at the supermarket.
You can get a flavor of Senator Obamas conventional, liberal program on his website. Thats where he has published his platform, a set of detailed policy prescriptions called The Blueprint for Change.
Mona Charen is right. Barack Obamas platform is standard Democratic boilerplate. He proposes universal health insurance to cover the presently uninsured. On education he proposes a Zero to Five program of learning and care for children and families, adds funding to No Child Left Behind, and makes college more affordable. On Social Security he is strongly opposed to privatization, opposes raising the retirement age and proposes to choose a payroll tax reform package to keep Social Security solvent. Hell bring all our combat brigades home from Iraq in 16 months. There will be no permanent bases in Iraq, but theres an out. If al Qaeda attempts to build a base in Iraq hell use US troops for targeted strikes on al Qaeda.
Its interesting to compare the listing of Obama issues on BarackObama.com with the issues on JohnMcCain.com. You can tell that the two candidates are running in different parties. Obama writes about Civil Rights, Disabilities, Faith, Family. John McCain talks about Human Dignity & the Sanctity of Life. Where Obama writes about Economy and Fiscal, McCain writes about his Economic Stimulus Plan, his McCain Tax Cut Plan, and Government Spending, Lower Taxes, and Economic Prosperity.
So when you compare the two platforms you realize that both are predictable. The candidates are building them of the same old planks that have been used in Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns for the last several elections.
This suggests that the 50-50 nation politics of the past twenty years is likely to continue through the November election. As they have for the last generation, the Democrats will stand on a platform of defending and extending the pensions and subsidies of the welfare state, and Republicans are still trying to find a way to wriggle out of paying for it.
Political parties, like people, do not change their ways unless forced to do so. People change their ways after a loss: of a love, a spouse, a career. Political parties change their ways after they have lost landslide elections. There hasnt been a landslide since 1984.
By all rights, Republicans should be staring defeat in the face this year, having subjected voters to a mortgage meltdown and, very likely, a recession. Yet the very emptiness of the Democratic challenge, a promise of change built upon a platform of more of the same suggests that we have not yet arrived at a point of political inflexion.
Real change issues not from the ordinary manipulations of practical politicians but when politicians climb aboard a movement of moral renewal. Thats the thesis of William G. McLoughlin in Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform. For him the three great reform eras in the United Statesthe Revolutionary era, the Civil War era, and the Progressive/Liberal eraall issued from movements of religious revival. In The Fourth Great Awakening Robert William Fogel suggests that the current religious revival in the United States represents the start of a new reform era, one that is likely to take liberals out of power unless they can figure out how to co-opt it.
It is this emerging movement of moral revival that surprised our governing elite in the aftermath of the Supreme Courts triumphant decision in Roe v. Wade that freed women, victims of the species, from the yoke of unwanted pregnancy. Unexpectedly, a movement of rejection erupted against the elite assumption that childbearing was a mere interruption in a life of self-development and creativity. Nobody knows where this movement will end.
But it is clear that the change proposed by the pro-life movement promises a lot more change to the political and moral/cultural status quo that the audacious hope for change proposed by Senator Barack Obama.
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
Civil Societya complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churchesbuilds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008
As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable...
[1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006
No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, Letter to Lord Lytton
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, The Scientist as Rebel