While everyone is pointing to reasonable factors explaining Obama’s face plant in last night’s debate (arrogance, coddled too long by the MSM, thin air, etc), there may be a deeper, philosophical explanation, which means it won’t get any better for Obama even if he figures out how to stop his Teleprompter-deprived stammering by the next debate. In my post the other day on Lilla-Livered Liberals, I quoted Harvey Mansfield’s remark from 25 years ago about “a liberalism that is politically exhausted and bored with itself.” I think the “boredom”—at a deep philosophical level—may explain Obama’s real problem.
Once again I turn for a witness to Charles Kesler’s I Am the Change, where he notes the following about Obama’s variety of liberal “Progressivism”:
As Harvey Mansfield pointed out, a key to Obama’s political success is the way he presents himself as somehow beyond or above ordinary politics, which he disdains as a self-interested scramble. He thinks of himself, and wants us to think of him, as a nonpartisan or postpartisan figure. To the extent he must indulge in partisanship now, it’s for the sake of putting an end to it in the future. “His politics is apolitical,” Mansfield argued. “It considers its measures to be progressive, and progress to be irreversible.” In other words, Obama’s postpartisanship is part of the great liberal double standard. Liberals cursed by such hubris imagine they have the keys to the kingdom of History; they alone get to bless or condemn forevermore.
In other words, the bubble Obama inhabits is much larger than just the media cocoon and the cloistered nature of sycophancy inside the White House. Once you assume that you are on “the side of History” that runs in only one direction, you become, first, intellectually lazy, and second, presumptuous, and unable to argue your position from the ground up. It’s easy to win debates in your own mind if you simply assume that you are right about everything. And with the media telling you that you’re so wonderful, why would you ever have second thoughts.
But just as the internet (and Fox!) have shattered the media monopoly, conservatives also shattered liberalism’s intellectual monopoly, as Kesler goes on to explain:
The unquestionability of both progress and relativism died quietly in classrooms around the country. . . The developments in political philosophy challenged the ends of progressivism, proving far more damaging to it. In sheer numbers the academy remained safely, overwhelmingly in the hands of the Left, whose members in fact grew more radical, with some notable exceptions, in these years. But they gradually lost the unchallenged intellectual ascendancy, though not the prestige, they once had enjoyed.
The Left either can’t or won’t confront this defect in their position today. Obama shows liberalism’s boredom with having to refresh and rearticulate its first principles. Or, to adapt a famous line in a movie, “Obama—you can’t handle the truth!”