Getting It Wrong


I’ve been saying for quite a while that it looked to me like Barack Obama was trying to be the Ronald Reagan of liberalism. Back on Jan. 6 of this year, I said:

if I’m reading him right, he may have the biggest agenda of any candidate since Ronald Reagan. I think his goal, like Reagan’s, is to use the presidency to shift the entire debate in America; to change the nature of the discourse; to give us a different conception of ourselves as a nation than the one we’ve had for the past 20 years or so. How? By doing literally that — shifting the debate, changing the discourse, offering a different conception. The catchphrase for analysts of Reagan was “the medium is the message.” The catchphrase for Obama may be “the message is the agenda.” That is, his agenda isn’t primarily a legislative one, but a rhetorical/psychological/cultural one, in that order. From what I can tell, he figures that if he changes the way we think of ourselves and the way we talk, the legislation will follow.

Not so much. Perhaps this is the right sentiment, after all.

The general election has not even begun yet, and already Obama has stopped making liberalism’s case as the strong case that it is, and begun retreating by adopting conservatism’s position on the rule of law. (The dominant coterie of contemporary conservatives are against it.)

This is sad in many ways. It’s sad because it’s the wrong position on an issue whose right position is obvious and has been since Magna Carta. It’s sad because it’s bad for the country. It’s sad because it’s misguided; that is, Obama and his campaign apparently think this makes him look stronger, when in fact it abandons a position of strength, courage, and patriotic constitutionalism (the liberal position) for one that reeks of fear, weakness, and expediency (the conservative position).

Maybe it’s the triangulating influence of the Clinton advisers he hired after Hillary suspended her campaign, or maybe it’s his own doing, but one thing is clear: if I was ever right about Obama, if he ever intended to be the Reagan of liberalism, he has abandoned that hope. During a rough time in our nation’s history, Reagan stood up and said, “America is strong. Far too strong to be brought down by the present troubles. Follow me on the conservative path, and we’ll make it morning in America, again.”

With his position on FISA, Obama demonstrates that he isn’t going to deliver the liberal version of that message. Instead, he’s joining conservatism in abandoning Reagan’s message. Obama, McCain, Bush, Cheney, and the rest now speak together: “America is weak. Far too weak to survive the present troubles. We must refashion it in the image of a single leader standing above all others, above the law, if we are to survive.”



7 Responses to “Getting It Wrong”

  1. Michael Lasley Says:

    Has Obama discussed his logic on this one? I didn’t notice anything by him in those articles you linked. Just curious about what he’d say about his thought process and how his vote here fits into his overall message.

  2. urbino Says:

    Not that I know of. Just the stuff about nat’l security trumping other concerns.

    Frankly, I doubt he could offer his thought process because I don’t think this is what he actually thinks. It looks to me like bald political calculation. He’s concerned about the ongoing right-wing lie that he’s a terrorist or is in sympathy with terrorists, and this is one way of making his nat’l security bones.

    Another way, of course — the way I’d have preferred he take, and the way I thought he was taking in the primaries — would be to make the obvious, strong argument for the strong liberal position: that we don’t sell out America’s core principles just because some nuts blew up a couple of buildings; that we’re much too big and much too strong for that; that we will continue to be America, and such nuts just flat aren’t big enough or strong enough to make us stop.

  3. Michael Lasley Says:

    I imagine that when so many people STILL think he’s a Muslim (it’s a crazy percentage of people), he’s concerning himself with how to look good now….because those people, well, his message of hope and changing the discourse and whatnot will be lost on them, and his message ain’t that helpful if he’s still a Senator next year this time.

  4. urbino Says:

    Yeah, I hear that argument. Alls I’m saying is he also can’t change the discourse if he doesn’t change the discourse, which is what I thought he was going to do. Which is what I got wrong. Which is the title.

  5. Michael Lasley Says:

    I smell what you’re stepping in.

  6. alsturgeon Says:

    No, that’s my colon.

  7. urbino Says:


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