Inside the mind of an “Obamacon”

Those searching for amusement in the final days of the campaign should read this interview in which Jeffrey Hart attempts to ground his support for Barack Obama in conservative principles. Hart informs the Review that his support for Obama flows from “Burkean conservatism,” the core insight of which is that “you can’t reinvent society every morning.” But Hart never get around to the hard work (to say the least) of showing that Obama shares this insight. Instead, Hart demonstrates that he himself adheres to it only selectively.

In the case of Iraq, Hart does insist on the impossibility of remaking society on the fly. Indeed, he goes so far as to offer something like an apology for Saddam Hussein:

It is tough to reconcile these factions in Iraq, if not impossible. I don’t think you have to be as vicious as Saddam, he was running a Sunni government, but to represent a minority in a country is difficult.

When it comes to the U.S., though, Hart is more enthusiastic about radical experimentation and less concerned about tradition:

Roosevelt’s New Deal created jobs, big projects, dams, etc. Young men were paid one dollar an hour to work in the woods. What that did was pour purchasing power into the economy and revived it. It was a shot in the dark, and it worked.

Hart also believes that expanding government may be solution to the economic problems of today:

Government has never been bigger than $700 billion, but it might be what our country needs to avert this crisis.

Hart also favors pragmatism over traditionalism when it comes to the issue of abortion:

Women’s equality is connected with the availability of abortion, because for a woman who wants to go to medical school, an unwanted pregnancy will derail her career.

If one integrates into conservatism (a) faith in big government, (b) sympathy over the difficulties faced by foreign dictators who represent minority factions, and (c) an abortion policy driven by concern about the effect of childbearing on the mother’s career ambitions, it becomes possible to make a conservative case for Obama . But how does one defend this strange stew as conservatism?

Hart does so by equating conservatism with “fact-based” policy. In other words, a conservative is someone who supports policies that will work.

This definition begs the question, of course. Conservatism, liberalism, and all other such schools are defined in large part precisely by what policies they think will “work,” i.e. what policies will be best for society. Conservatives believe, for example, that a government takeover of the health care industry will not “work.” It is thus foolish for Professor Hart to suggest that because he believes the solutions advocated by Obama and other liberals will work, he is therefore being a true conservative in supporting Obama. It would be more honest, and more intelligible, to say that, to the extent Hart believes programs that have always been considered liberal will work, he has become a liberal.

As with his suggestion that Obama understands the dangers associated with re-inventing society, Professor Hart fails to advance any arguments in favor of his claim that Obama’s “positions are fact-based policy.” Obama’s position that the surge in Iraq was doomed to fail was wrong. So was Obama’s position, when in charge of distributing funds from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge to city schools, that funding Afro-centric programs rather than traditional educational programs, would improve educational achievement. Professor Hart probably believes that Obama’s opposition to invading Iraq was fact-based, but what of Obama’s statement in 2004 that on the subject of Iraq there is not much difference at that point between his views about Iraq and those of President Bush?

During a Hollywood softball game in which makeshift bases were being used, Groucho Marx and Will Rogers got into a dispute about where second base was. Rogers told Groucho, “at my age wherever I’m standing is second base.” Jeffrey Hart seems to believe that the same rule applies to him and conservatism. Such egocentrism seems to be the defining characteristic of the Obamacon.

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