America’s Tory President

Aug 24 2012 @ 12:29pm

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Noah Millman thinks the "Obama Administration has been a quintessentially small-'c' conservative one, in that it has tried its best to preserve the status quo in just about every area":

It would be helpful if commentators like Friedman would acknowledge not only that the Republican Party has become a right-wing populist party rather than a conservative one, but that the Obama Administration is the sensible, centrist conservative Administration they claim to want – and either declare their support (rather than wishing for a better opposition) or, if they don’t like the results, reconsider their centrist policy preferences.

Indeed. Which is why my support is so passionate, because Obama is, in my view, the conservative reformist of my dreams. Almost the entire Tory party in Britain would now fit comfortably in the Democratic Party – and Cameron is clearly closer to Obama than to Romney. In fact, there is no mainstream conservative party in the West even close to the GOP's fundamentalist, revolutionary populism.

BurkeOf which other Western right of center party could the following be said: it holds that  man-made climate change is a hoax and that more carbon energy is harmless and indeed vital. On immigration, the party supports a vast wall across the Southern border, and eventual deportation by attrition of 11 million illegal immigrants. On the deficit and debt, the GOP is the only party in the West that refuses to raise any revenues to close the gap, even as revenues are at 60 year lows. On social issues, the GOP would ban any recognition for gay couples, including civil unions and would criminalize abortion in every state by constitutional amendment. More amazingly, a Romney presidency would tackle the genuinely dangerous debt and deficit by cutting taxes on everyone, especially the super-rich, vastly increasing defense spending, and making all the cuts in government medical care for the elderly and the poor. The poor get shafted first by gutting Medicaid; then the elderly get cosseted for another generation until mine and those younger than me – much poorer than the boomers – take the hit. It is, to put it bluntly, a near-parody of far-right extremism.

Larison objects to this definition of "conservative" but Millman holds his ground. Massie intervenes:

There’s a better label for Obama than conservative: Tory. The President is no kind of revolutionary. The change we can believe in is the change needed so things can remain much as they were. This is one reason why he has disappointed what remains of the Democratic left. From Gitmo to drone warfare; from protecting Wall street from the torch-and-pitchfork brigade to accepting the need for long-term deficit-reduction Obama has proved himself a very rum type of peacenik-socialist…

I can see how Obama’s interventions in the economy – from bailing-out Detroit to passing his stimulus package – can be seen as a massive expansion of government power even though a more judicious appraisal would conclude they were designed, sensibly or not, to minimise disruption, uncertainty and fear…

If Obama had come to power in happier times he might have run a different, more expressly liberal, administration. (Then again: in happier times he might never have run for the Presidency, far less won it). But constrained by circumstance and events he’s been compelled to lead in a notable unideological fashion. Rather like one kind of old-fashioned Tory, in other words.

That's why I have long been baffled as to why people said my preference over Obama was some kind of shift to the ideological left. Nope. Against a radical right, reckless, populist insurgency, Obama is the conservative option, dealing with emergent problems with pragmatic calm and modest innovation. He seeks as a good Oakeshottian would to reform the country's policies in order to regain the country's past virtues. What could possibly be more conservative than that? Or less conservative than the radical fusion of neoconservatism, theoconservatism and opportunism that is the alternative?

For thinking conservatives of a classic variety, Obama is the best president since Clinton and the first Bush. We need him for the next four years if we are to avoid the catastrophes that always follow revolutionary ideology. Like another Iraq; or another Katrina; or another Lehman.

(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)