The Right Choice? the Conservative Case for Barack Obama

By Bacevich, Andrew J. | The American Conservative, March 24, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Right Choice? the Conservative Case for Barack Obama


Bacevich, Andrew J., The American Conservative


Barack Obama is no conservative. Yet if he wins the Democratic nomination, come November principled conservatives may well find themselves voting for the senator from Illinois. Given the alternatives--and the state of the conservative movement--they could do worse.

Granted, when it comes to defining exactly what authentic conservatism entails, considerable disagreement exists even (or especially) among conservatives themselves. My own definition emphasizes the following:

* a commitment to individual liberty, tempered by the conviction that genuine freedom entails more than simply an absence of restraint;

* a belief in limited government, fiscal responsibility, and the rule of law;

* veneration for our cultural inheritance combined with a sense of stewardship for Creation;

* a reluctance to discard or tamper with traditional social arrangements;

* respect for the market as the generator of wealth combined with a wariness of the market's corrosive impact on humane values;

* a deep suspicion of utopian promises, rooted in an appreciation of the sinfulness of man and the recalcitrance of history.

Accept that definition and it quickly becomes apparent that the Republican Party does not represent conservative principles. The conservative ascendancy that began with the election of Ronald Reagan has been largely an illusion. During the period since 1980, certain faux conservatives--especially those in the service of Big Business and Big Empire--have prospered. But conservatism as such has not.

The presidency of George W. Bush illustrates the point. In 2001, President Bush took command of a massive, inefficient federal bureaucracy. Since then, he has substantially increased the size of that apparatus, which during his tenure has displayed breathtaking ineptitude both at home and abroad. Over the course of Bush's two terms in office, federal spending has increased 50 percent to $3 trillion per year. Disregarding any obligation to balance the budget, Bush has allowed the national debt to balloon from $5.7 to $9.4 trillion. Worse, under the guise of keeping Americans "safe," he has arrogated to the executive branch unprecedented powers, thereby subverting the Constitution. Whatever else may be said about this record of achievement, it does not accord with conservative principles.

As with every Republican leader since Reagan, President Bush has routinely expressed his support for traditional values. He portrays himself as pro-life and pro-family. He offers testimonials to old-fashioned civic virtues. Yet apart from sporting an American flag lapel-pin, he has done little to promote these values. If anything, the reverse is true. In the defining moment of his presidency, rather than summoning Americans to rally to their country, he validated conspicuous consumption as the core function of 21st-century citizenship.

Should conservatives hold President Bush accountable for the nation's cultural crisis? Of course not. The pursuit of instant gratification, the compulsion to accumulate, and the exaltation of celebrity that have become central to the American way of life predate this administration and derive from forces that lie far beyond the control of any president. Yet conservatives should fault the president and his party for pretending that they are seriously committed to curbing or reversing such tendencies. They might also blame themselves for failing to see the GOP's cultural agenda as contrived and cynical.

Finally, there is President Bush's misguided approach to foreign policy, based on expectations of deploying American military might to eliminate tyranny, transform the Greater Middle East, and expunge evil from the face of the earth. The result has been the very inverse of conservatism. For Bush, in the wake of 9/11, ideology supplanted statecraft. As a result, his administration has squandered American lives and treasure in the pursuit of objectives that make little strategic sense. …

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