I Am the Change

Run, don’t walk (or whatever the Internet equivalent is of dashing immediately) to George Will’s column today about Charles Kesler’s imminent book, I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, which is officially published next week, but which you can pre-order right now (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already on some bookstore tables, if you like the bricks and mortar experience).  I’ve already got my advance copy and have read it already, as you can see here.

As it happens, I’m in Washington today to videotape an interview with Charles this evening at the Newseum (in front of a live audience!), to be aired later on the Claremont Institute’s forthcoming video series “The American Mind.”  (You can see an early pilot of this project, with Charles in conversation with John Yoo, right here.)

Charles is, like his mentor William F. Buckley, a jaunty fellow given to fits of optimism. As such, he ends his introduction with this dashing thought:

Obama’s fate is tied to liberalism’s, and vice versa.  It was precisely a hundred years ago that Woodrow Wilson launched modern liberalism in all its hubris.  That year, 1912,was also a year ahead of the Titanic.  Does anyone see an iceberg ahead?

Charles’s book differs from all of the other critical books about Obama, in that it eschews conspiracy theorizing in favor of political theorizing—that is, placing Obama and his thoughts and actions within a long context of the development of 20th century liberalism (not that Obama’s dodgy relations with Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers, and Frank Marshall Davis are unimportant or unrevealing).  In this respect, it follows Occam’s Razor: it is not necessary to divine an explicitly anti-colonial motivation of Obama to understand him; after all, even his anti-colonial views differ not at all from any other faculty room liberal weaned on Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky.  “Conservatives, of all people,” Kesler reminds us, “should know to beware instant gratification, especially when it comes wrapped in a conspiracy theory.”  Instead, we see how Obama fits the long development and step-increases of liberal ideology from the Progressive Era onward.

Anyway, after a typically able summary of the main argument of the book in today’s column, George Will concludes:

In 2012, Americans want from government not such flights of fancy but sobriety; not ecstatic evocations of dreamlike tomorrows but a tolerably functioning today; not fantasies about a world without scarcities and therefore without choices among our desires and appetites but a mature understanding of the limits to government’s proper scope and actual competence. Tonight’s speech is Obama’s last chance to take a first step toward accommodation with a country increasingly concerned about his unmasked determination to “transform” what the Founders considered “fundamentals.”


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