the deception of dignity
“But it’s not right to end on a note of cultural pessimism because there is the fact of President Obama. Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity. The cultural effects of his presidency are not yet clear, but they may surpass his policy impact. He may revitalize the concept of dignity for a new generation and embody a new set of rules for self-mastery.” ~ David Brooks
David Brooks is falling into the Andrew Sullivan trap when it comes to Obama – and it’s easy to do. Obama is easy to admire. His dignity and composure are seductive, a welcome breath of fresh air in a political landscape that is too often brash and divisive; a seemingly humble leader in an industry of arrogance. People are tired of swaggering cowboys. They’re ready for stateliness and dignity.
Still, dignity is not a panacea no matter how glad we are to have it in our new captain. Skipping so swiftly over policy differences and on to Obama’s “reticence, dispassion” and other lovely traits is as silly as howling at the moon every time the President does or says something that lays bear his “deep hatred” of America.
We need a more humble approach to foreign policy, and Obama is doing a reasonably good job at providing that. Republicans are wasting time on foreign policy critiques right now. The majority of Americans want a more modest approach to global affairs, and few even amongst the base of the Republican party are really ideologically driven when it comes to referencing the end of the Cold War, or our support of Iranian protesters. Most Americans are ready to give diplomacy a try, and understand that diplomacy requires restraint and modesty. Republicans do not score points towing the George Bush foreign policy line.
Where conservatives can score points, and where they need to start focusing their energies, is on matters of fiscal conservatism. We face massive deficits, the possibility of a disastrous and expensive health care bill, terrible environmental regulatory efforts subject to capture and abuse, food regulations that will crowd out small growers and , and a whole host of other Democratic domestic policies that will stifle economic activity, grow government, and prop up incumbent businesses at the expense of smaller businesses and start-ups. All this amidst a recession. We need conservatives (and libertarians) to begin vocalizing the danger in all of this without resorting to cries of “socialism” or “fascism.” Those words are beginning to lose their meaning. In fact, the Republican outrage itself is beginning to lose meaning.
Then beyond that, beyond simply pointing out the opposition’s flaws, we need clear, coherent alternate visions. We need a map. Right now nobody knows what it is exactly conservatives would do differently except in the abstract: cut taxes, deregulate, etc. And people just don’t understand how that’s supposed to help because conservatives have largely lost their ability to communicate. The message has been lost amidst all the shouting.
Obama is indeed an emblem of dignity, but behind that dignity lies deception. Poise and grace will not lead America back from the brink any more than massive regulations and tax hikes to pay for massive new entitlements will. Obama is not bi-partisan regardless of his overtures to conservatives, and perhaps the GOP does not deserve bi-partisanship inclusion at this point. But someday a meaningful opposition will be necessary, and if the course isn’t shifted and soon that opposition will gutter out before it has time to take shape.