Massachusetts and the bigger picture 

Over at the Weekly Standard, James Ceaser has a fantastic article (it's the cover in this week's print edition) that really sums up well where all the mass enthusiasm for Obama came from and why, in the midst of him tackling what the left thought was one of its strongest issues, healthcare, Democrats are running for the exits rather than rejoicing.

Contrary to much of the conventional wisdom about the last presidential campaign, Obama's success wasn't due primarily to the web or technology but rather how Obama was able to tap into a larger philosophical-religious principle with his campaign strategy, the "religion of humanity," a term coined by 18th century French philosopher Auguste Comte:

The combination of confidence in science and a religious-like enthusiasm was the hallmark of the Obama campaign, just as it is the most salient characteristic of the contemporary progressive impulse. Confidence in experts and the pledge to “restore science to its rightful place” went hand in hand with chants of “Yes we can” and with celebrations of the gift of charismatic leadership.

What was more far-fetched was Comte’s plan to establish an organized sect with churches, clergy, and calendar of Positivist saints. His movement in fact never reached much beyond the intellectual elites. But even here -Comte’s thought may be less naïve than it first appears, as he envisaged an initial period of syncretism in which existing Christian sects would adopt the fundamental premises of the new religion without officially becoming part of it. What better describes the theology of many contemporary liberal churches whose full energy in 2008 went into proselytizing for Obama?

What Obama managed to do is that he wrapped himself, an exceedingly vain and inexperienced machine politician, in the mantle of the highest ideals of left-liberalism: universal human equality and rejection of superstition and backward thinking. Those ideals, mind you, cannot be defeated in the abstract since who can argue against being smart or wanting others to have a far shot? That is why critiques of Obama had such trouble sticking during the campaigns. While an appeal to experience would have served as a useful antidote to Obama, it was ineffective considering that the electorate's memory of just how disastrous left-liberalism is in practice.

Now that he's in office, Obama's high-minded rhetoric has fallen hard to reality, resulting in multiple concessions to his predecessor's policies (e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan, and wiretapping) and/or massive ineffectiveness (see stimulus, environment, auto bailouts).

Despite the disconnect between theoretical Obama and actual Obama, the success of the former at creating the latter ought to raise the question to those on the right: How do you do that same thing to appeal to people's higher instincts without resorting to religious forms that are proving ever more ineffective as "no religion" continues to be the fastest growing religious demographic?

The answer lies in the idea that the right needs to think (and talk) bigger. The core of the Obama campaign message was that everyone deserves a fair shot and that we should stop always be on the lookout for new ways to improve the human condition. That is a powerful principle that can't be defeated simply with talk about budget overruns and excessive regulations.A small argument can never defeat a big one in politics.

The best antidote to this is simply to point out that if you want everyone's condition to be improved and you want to promote enlightenment, the best tool for that is freedom. Not freedom as in free stuff but freedom as in agency, the ability to control your own destiny.

Individual empowerment is what the right seeks more than anything else. It's time center-right politicians started talking and acting that way. Government is at its best when it sets the rules of the game as close to their natural state and then withdraws enough to allow the players to duke it out. Put another way: attempting to codify new "rights" is an effort doomed to failure and one that is fraught with corruption and backroom dealing.

Instead of pursuing impossible dreams, government needs to cut back and focus on its basic core competencies and allow citizens the freedom to succeed. People are the power we need to get America back on its feet economically, not the government.

That, in essence, is the message of the tea party movement and why, despite persistently negative press from the left-dominated mass media, the tea partiers enjoy greater popularity than either the Democratic or Republican parties.

Put in more abstract secular language, a freedom-first message has a strong appeal to intellectuals and the secular-minded. Freedom is not something you need to have or lack religion to appreciate. It's something we all want. Tapping into that impulse is how GOPers can best continue their winning streak.

In his time, Ronald Reagan proved that this type of message has lasting value. More recently, Republicans in New Jersey, Virginia have proven this more recently. By contrast, lackluster Democrats like Creigh Deeds, Jon Corzine, and (presumably) Martha Coakley are making the exact same mistake that Republicans made countering Obama, sticking to petty arguments about Wall Street bankers and trumped up abortion fear-mongering.

Even if Coakley does manage to somehow pull ahead at the finish, the very fact that a Republican has done this well in Massachusetts ought to speak volumes. Are Republican politicos listening though?

About The Author

Matthew Sheffield

Pin It

More by Matthew Sheffield

Latest in Nation

© 2019 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation