Monday, November 01, 2010

Counterculture Child

Comes Shelby Steele, of the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford, to tell us what makes President Obama tick:
There is an "otherness" about Mr. Obama, the sense that he is somehow not truly American. . . But Barack Obama is not an "other" so much as he is a child of the 1960s.

His coming of age paralleled exactly the unfolding of a new "counterculture" American identity. And this new American identity—and the post-1960s liberalism it spawned—is grounded in a remarkable irony: bad faith in America as virtue itself, bad faith in the classic American identity of constitutional freedom and capitalism as the way to a better America.

Obama . . . is simply the first president we have seen grounded in this counterculture American identity. When he bows to foreign leaders, he [displays] the counterculture Americanism of honorable self-effacement in which America acknowledges its own capacity for evil as prelude to engagement.

Bad faith in America became virtuous in the '60s when America finally acknowledged so many of its flagrant hypocrisies: the segregation of blacks, the suppression of women, the exploitation of other minorities, the "imperialism" of the Vietnam War, the indifference to the environment, the hypocrisy of puritanical sexual mores . . . [A]ll these hypocrisies added up to the crowning idea of the '60s: that America was characterologically evil.
Steele believes that among today's “liberal elite,” bad faith in America is “a sophistication, a kind of hipness.” But he also understands low faith in our country “is the perfect formula” for “governmental power,” because it “rationalizes power in the name of intervening against evil—[against] economic inequality, structural racism and sexism, corporate greed, neglect of the environment.”

"Hope and Change," Steele bluntly says, actually “is an expression of bad faith in America,” but turned into “political motivation” and “votes.”

Nevertheless, Steele senses it's a mistake to capitalize on bad faith, because doing so:
disallows American exceptionalism as a rationale for power. It puts Mr. Obama and the Democrats in the position of forever redeeming a fallen nation, rather than leading a great nation. They bet on America's characterological evil and not on her sense of fairness, generosity or ingenuity. [Take this approach, and] you become more a national scold than a real leader. You lead out of a feeling that your opposition is really only the latest incarnation of that old characterological evil that you always knew was there.
Steele is especially concerned that Obama functions more as a redeemer than a steward:
A redeemer can't just tweak and guide a faltering economy; he will need a trillion- dollar stimulus package. He can't take on health care a step at a time; he must do it all at once, finally mandating that every citizen buy in. . . We have a president so determined to transform and redeem us from what we are that, by his own words, he is willing to risk being a one-term president.
Steele, in other words, worries that Obama the redeemer cannot shift back to the center—as Bill Clinton did—after his expected mid-term election defeat.

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