by Whet Moser
The American Conservative's blog Eunomia, by U. of C. grad student Daniel Larison, is one of the best blogs I've come across in a long time: intelligent without being arrogant, serious without being stuffy. It's also a pleasure to read in the strictest sense--he writes clear, confident sentences without decoration or bluster, which is all the more impressive for a blog (see also Ben Dueholm on Larison). As an example, "That's Not Change, That's More of the Same" is a compelling and not inaccurate critique of Barack Obama, which draws on the diverse coalition of John Kass, Ryan Lizza, and David Sirota to argue that Obama tends to track towards the status quo, arguably undermining the "change" motto of his campaign.*
Larison's point underscores a very important point about why the Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright attacks have been failing. It's barking mad to infer that he's an angry black hippie Islamoterrorist because it's so clearly not the case. The more logical critique is that Obama "associated" with Ayers and Wright, inarguably two members of the Chicago political power structure, because it was politically expedient, to avoid making waves, and that's a failing, just as it's a failing to go along with the more traditional aspects of the local machine. As Larison points out, his votes on the FISA and bailout bills, which have come under fire from progressives, are in keeping with his political nature.
Reasonable people have made their peace with this, like the Reader's own Ben Joravsky: "I’ve cut Obama some slack, just as I did Dick Durbin, Paul Simon, Sidney Yates, Paul Douglas, and all the other liberals we’ve sent to Washington. Agreeing to look the other way while the machine does its dirty deeds is part of the deal they make to win a seat in Congress and start working on important national issues." For other reasonable people it's insufferable hypocrisy. I don't know. Vote your conscience.
Either way, that's not the message that's gotten through.
How this thesis will apply to an Obama presidency is complicated, however. It's likely that he'll come into the presidency with a substantial electoral and popular victory (FiveThirtyEight currently estimates a greater than 50% chance of 375+ electoral votes) and large majorities in both houses of Congress, making him, for the first time in his political career, the leader of his party. And not just the titular leader, but its organizing principle. He'll be his own Daley, in other words. How much of his political personality has been of necessity, and how much is innate? It's a compelling question, and not one I've seen addressed (or can answer).
But as (above all other ideological associations) a skeptic, when Obama presents himself as a vessel for the hope of his supporters, I can't help but think it's a subtle acknowledgment that he's still a cipher, still unformed. As the battle to elect Obama president seemingly draws to a close, it signals the next round, the battle for his presidency.
* If you wanted to take issue with this part of Larison's argument, I think it's fair to point out that for the past seven years we've had a president with an almost pathological inability to compromise, so a go-along-to-get-along Obama presidency would represent change, although not the sexiest kind.