When last we met, Your Cool Hot Center was puzzling over why President Obama would persist in pursuing a far-left agenda that a large number of people who voted for him, and voted for Democratic representatives and senators, do not like. They don't like it so much that they are banding together -- community organizing, as I suggested last time -- to vote his supporters out of office. The ever-faithful Anonymous left a comment on the previous article suggesting that people have short memories, and it is indeed the case that today's lightning news cycles can produce dramatic swings in voter sentiment in a very short period of time. But somehow, I don't think those Tea Party folks -- who frankly make me a little uneasy, although I would probably agree with most of their positions -- are going to stand down after the November elections. I think they're going to keep the pressure on for repeal of the health care bill and a halt to the redistributionist policies of this President and Congress.
There will no doubt be considerable residual fondness in 2012 for this magnetic man of history. It may also be the case that if the November elections have the effect of reining in his excesses, his Presidency will calm down, he'll turn to Bill Clinton for advice on how to navigate the new waters, and people will take a kindlier view of the man. (And, of course, the Republicans could nominate a knucklehead, or two.) Reforms will moderate, and some may be salutary. (No one -- not me anyway -- believes that some stuff around here doesn't need fixing.) Those Death Valley "strongly disapprove" ratings will ease, and he'll have his second term. But my questions is: Why is he risking that with his demand for the lightning restructuring of the American economy and role of government?
So, with thanks to Anonymous for the corrective, I return to my question: Doesn't he care about the results of the mid-term election, or his own reelection?
Well, no; no, he doesn't, not very much anyway.
His policies may appear nonsensical, even unhinged, to that big chunk of the center-to-right portion of the electorate. You know, that chunk that elects presidents. But there is one place -- and really only one place -- where his freedom-unfriendly, government-intensive policies are almost unanimously popular, and where the working middle class is held at arms-length, like a faintly distasteful family member:
This is where the policies he is advancing came from. His administration is government by abstract theory. Take the most notorious example, health care legislation. Put aside the corruption and near-comic ignornace of its provisions exhibited by Congress. Government-run health-care has never worked, anywhere. And when I say it hasn't worked, I mean it hasn't worked as a system that expects the miracles that we demand of ours, and which it routinely delivers. (And delivers to foreigners who flock here from their own state-run systems to experience them.) The health-care bill is based, much of what he believes appears to be based, on a near-socialist (at least near-) view of wealth redistribution. The theories upon which this view is based get traction only in certain isolated islands of American geography: The departments of economics, political science, philosophy, history, ethnic studies, English and literature in American colleges and universities. (Wait, let's not forget Greece, Great Britain, much of Europe, and California.)
The president does not much care what happens on November 2, 2010, to the Pelosi-whipped represenatives who voted for a health-care reform bill they did not and could not read. He really doesn't even care all that much about what happens to him on November 6, 2012. He cares mostly about his lionization for the remainder of his considerable days by the only people whose opinion he respects: Liberal arts faculties and their products. He cares about how he will appear in the books they will write. They will celebrate his bravery in taking on those small-minded people who want to direct their earnings as they see fit rather than turning it over to a governing elite who can parcel it out based on ideas of what has come to be konwn as "social justice." "Social justice" has its modern foundation in the theories of John Rawls, expressed at tedious length and unreadable prose in his 1971 book A Theory of Justice. The men and women who were undergraduates when that book had its heyday are now running American liberal arts departments.
Barack Obama's worldview owes less to his upbringing and race than it does to his association with Harvard and the University of Chicago and the academics and intellectuals he has brought with him on his rather brief journey. The academy is truly where he came from. It is where he will go when he is turned out. It will nuture and celebrate him in the decades (Jah willing) he has left, as they have celebrated and elevated him since he came of age. While the nation is struggling to undo the damage he has caused, he will be basking in the warmth of tenured fans. He has even assumed their manner -- a noticeable tendency to lecture, a growing distaste for questions, even from the press who had a big role in putting him behind the lecturn with that big seal on it.
Because he is really good at thinking, and really light on experience, he values the results of thought divorced from experience. He admires the methods of today's academic social scientists. He believes what they believe. These university guys are cool and witty and freaky smart and I'm just like them. And the hell with people whose perspective is shaped by something other than theory, like, for example, nontenured employment and income-tax withholding. Indeed, even during the campaign, he has been unable wholly to supress his discomfort with the concerns and enthusiasms of the middle class.
(There is one other island that tends this way -- unionized government employees. But they are not quite so monolithic and their intellectual contribution to the administration is negligible.)
Am I overstating the leftism of the academy? No. Study after study finds Democrats outnumbering Republicans there by breathtaking margins, and their political beliefs overwhelmingly to the left. (Scroll through the abstracts collected here.) (Yeah, Steverino, but doesn't that just prove conservatives are dumb because only smart people are professors? No, but that's a topic for another day.) Do I overstate the President's attachment to this subculture? I'm not a mind-reader, but I don't think I do. The President disowned the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but only distanced himself from Prof. William Ayres's youthful violence. (The President may have other reasons not to alienate Prof. Ayres; the evidence that the latter composed the much-praised Dreams from My Father, while not conclusive, is suggestive.) And the academy has risen to Prof. Ayres's vigorous defense.
So no, I can't prove that President Obama places decisive value on the approbation of liberal arts faculties. But I am convinced that a significant element of the President's motivation is his knowledge that he is actually enacting the dreamy speculations of the academic left that no previous national leader dared promote. These are his friends, his mentors. He will move among them as their hero the many long years of his life.
The legacy he is imagining has less to do with political parties than with cocktail parties.