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Reviewing Obama's "Blueprint for Change"

by Christopher Chantrill
February 19, 2008 at 11:41 pm

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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 Obama’s conventional, liberal program on his website. That’s where he has published his platform, a set of detailed policy prescriptions called The Blueprint for Change.

Mona Charen is right. Barack Obama’s 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. He’ll bring all our combat brigades home from Iraq in 16 months. There will be no permanent bases in Iraq, but there’s an out. If al Qaeda “attempts to build a base in Iraq” he’ll use US troops for “targeted strikes” on al Qaeda.

It’s 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 hasn’t 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. That’s the thesis of William G. McLoughlin in Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform. For him the three great reform eras in the United States—the Revolutionary era, the Civil War era, and the Progressive/Liberal era—all 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 Court’s 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.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures


German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Knowledge

Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital


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