There’s a great op-ed by Shelby Steele in today’s Wall Street Journal, called “Barack the Good”. The primary theme of the piece is that “The old fashioned, big government liberalism that Mr. Obama uses to make himself history-making also alienates him in the center-right America of today. It makes him the most divisive president in memory—a president who elicits narcissistic identification on the one hand and an enraged tea party movement on the other.”
But I find the more insightful passage to be this one:
For [President Obama] the great appeal of massive health-care reform—when jobs are a far more pressing problem—may have been its history-making potential. Here was a chance for Mr. Obama not just to be a part of history but to make history. … He is likely to be the most liberal president in American history. And, oddly, he may be a more effective liberal precisely because his liberalism is something he uses more than he believes in. As the far left constantly reminds us, he is not really a true believer. Rather liberalism is his ticket to grandiosity and to historical significance.
Of the two great societal goals—freedom and “the good”—freedom requires a conservatism, a discipline of principles over the good, limited government, and so on. No way to grandiosity here. But today’s liberalism is focused on “the good” more than on freedom. And ideas of “the good” are often a license to transgress democratic principles in order to reach social justice or to achieve more equality or to lessen suffering. The great political advantage of modern liberalism is its offer of license on the one hand and moral innocence—if not superiority—on the other. Liberalism lets you force people to buy health insurance and feel morally superior as you do it. Power and innocence at the same time.