Saturday, February 16, 2008



Most people with even a hint of objectivity, and even those thoroughly bereft of objectivity, given a sufficient degree of privacy, will admit that Barack Obama is an attractive candidate. He speaks well, excites crowds, and inspires people to vote and otherwise participate in the political process. (The last of which is not necessarily a good thing; see my 11/6/07post “Don’t Vote.”) One frequent criticism of Obama, however, is that we don’t know what he believes, and hence we don’t really know what we will be getting should he become president, which is not a foreordained conclusion. (See the last post.) I, like most of you, am sick of hearing about “change’ from the Obama camp, and from all the political camps, for that matter. The only circumstance in which “change” has any substance in a political context is as grist for the old saw that politicians will take your dollars and leave you with change. This particular saw is not only an eternal verity, but also an objective truth. But I digress. Change means nothing. Hitler brought about change, so did Pope John XXIII. Mao brought about change, so did the founding fathers of our once great nation. You get the point. The contention, however, that the seemingly change obsessed Obama lacks substance, that his is a candidacy, and that he is a man, of mellifluous fluff, is completely illegitimate, but not for the reasons Obama supporters cite.

Obama enthusiasts argue that there is some substance to Obama; one need only read his book “The Audacity of Hope.” I have not read Obama’s book because, if I were to do so, it would be the first book I would have read by an active politician. Why? Because life is short and busy; there is never enough time to read all that I would like to read. Given the regard I have for politicians in general, as reflected in this blog, I am not going to waste time reading the supposedly self-written hagiographies of people with spines of oatmeal and the vision of short order cooks. I have no time for treacly platitudes, which is what any politician gives us in his or her “books.” I suspect, and everything I have heard from objective, non-fatuated readers confirms, that Obama’s book is no different from that of any other politician.

Obama opponents are equally wrong when they argue that Obama’s campaign is completely bereft of substance, that it is merely a catalog of banal platitudes and gormless paeans to “change.” There is plenty of substance to Obama. For example, his economic plan, outlined earlier this week, was full of substance; it is the nature of that substance that is, to many, alarming. Senator Obama’s economic plan is classic, old-line liberalism: handouts to corporations disguised as “investments” and handouts to individuals disguised as “tax reductions for the middle and lower classes.”

More telling of Obama’s substance, however, was a comment he made last week. Senator Obama was enumerating the gargantuan costs of the Iraq war and then referred to these expenditures as “money that could be spent here.” Not “money we didn’t have to spend,” not “expenditures that are driving our country into bankruptcy,” and not “money that could be returned to the taxpayers,” but “money that could be spent here.” That, ladies and gentlemen, sums up Mr. Obama’s approach to governance.

Senator Obama’s approach is fine if one is a liberal. However, I suspect that many of those who compose the crowds enraptured by Mr. Obama are not brimming with enthusiasm for such an “all things to all people with your money” philosophy. Indeed, when people are asked why they support Obama, they do not respond “I like Obama because I favor big, activist government and the huge expenditures and tax increases that go with it,” or even “I favor Obama because he appears to be the most adamant about getting us out of Mr. Bush’s foolhardy and disastrous war.” Instead, they come back with something like “He gives me hope,” “I want change,” or “I don’t know, I just like him.” In America, where people vote (as they increasingly conduct their entire lives) with their hearts, rather than with their minds, this is par for the course.

As H.L. Mencken, to whose writing and general outlook mine are (surprise!) frequently compared, once said “The American people get the government they deserve…and they get it good.”

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