The Three Faces of Obama

At Ricochet, Steve Manacek builds on Dinesh D’Souza’s Forbes article and writes, “The best way to understand Obama, I believe, is to think of him as a sort of braid, intertwining the three dominant strands of modern liberalism:”


The best way to understand Obama, I believe, is to think of him as a sort of braid, intertwining the three dominant strands of modern liberalism. The first of these is “interest group” liberalism. Liberals are for unions, minorities, the poor, gays, trial lawyers, and so on. Liberals are against what they usually call “the rich,” but what in practice means anyone not primarily self-identifying as a member of one of their pet interest groups. This has been the dominant strand of liberalism in people like Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Ted Kennedy – and is the dominant strand in most congressional Democrats today.

The second strand is “technocratic elitism” – the belief that “experts” and “the best and the brightest” should run things. This is the dominant strand in people like Bill Bradley, Al Gore, and probably Bill Clinton. It is not confined to liberals – some conservatives share it in a mild degree – but it has been far more warmly embraced on the Left than on the Right.

The third strand is the one Dinesh has honed in on – a kind of “multi-cultural progressivism” that derives in large part from the earlier “anti-colonialism” and shares many of its beliefs – no culture or system is better than any other; the Caucasian West has only attained its wealth and position in the world by oppressing and exploiting other races; America is the pre-eminent “neo-colonialist” power and the major impediment to worldwide social justice; capitalism is morally unjust because it leads to inequalities; blah, blah, blah. These views have become dominant on university campuses and in academic enclaves, but remain either un-embraced or deeply submerged among the vast majority of workaday politicians for the simple reason that they find virtually no support anywhere else in the nation.

Consider how these strands have come together in the record of the Obama administration to date. The pork-laden “stimulus” bill? Obviously a product of the first strand – as have been the auto bailout, the states bailout, the extensions of unemployment benefits, the Sotomayor appointment, the push to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and virtually all the hyper-partisan demagoguery directed against conservatives, Republicans, millionaires, and so on. This is the part of Obama that is most at home with, and that works most comfortably with, the Democratic Congress, and when this strand dominates he is not markedly different from any mainstream liberal from the 1960s, 70s or 80s.

The second, technocratic, strand has produced cap-and-trade, all the “green” gobbledygook, the financial reform bill (which would have been far more “populist” had it been the product of the first strand), and, I would argue, the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the “pragmatist” Obama that was most prominently on display during the 2008 campaign. In this mode, Obama is fairly indistinguishable from Clinton, Gore, or even Jimmy Carter (as President).

The third strand – the multi-culti progressive, or, if you prefer, the anti-colonialist, in him—is what sets Obama apart. This is the strand that relishes “taking from the rich” even more than “giving to the poor.” It explains the bulk of Obama’s foreign policy – the “apology tours,” the coolness toward traditional (European) allies, the refusal to deal effectively with or even adequately condemn Ahmadinejad, and the participation in and tacit endorsement of all those goofy, nutty United Nations commissions. It even explains one of the earliest actions of his administration, which puzzled me (and may others) at the time – the removal of the Churchill bust. To the multi-culti progressive in Obama, not only was Britain the leading colonialist power, but Churchill himself was one of the last die-hard defenders of the British Empire. Of course Obama wouldn’t want that bust in his house. It is impossible to imagine an Adlai Stevenson, an LBJ, a Humphrey, or even a John Kerry booting Churchill out of the White House – but the multi-culti progressive in Obama dismisses him as just another racist, imperialist oppressor.

As noted, it is the strength and persistence of this third strand in his worldview that makes Obama unique among leading liberal politicians. But it derives, I think, not so much from the fact that Obama’s father was a Kenyan socialist anti-colonialist as from the fact that, compared with almost any other leading political figure, he has lived so much of his adult life in those academic enclaves which are the only places in America where this sort of thinking thrives. Far more than any other leading Democrat, Obama has been steeped in this multi-culti bilge – at Columbia, at Harvard, and all those years in Hyde Park among kindred spirits like Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright.


Or as Michel Ledeen and P.J. O’Rourke noted earlier this year, Obama really is the ultimate Ivy League undergrad. And as the Professor wrote earlier this week:

Question: If intellectuals are anti-American, is it surprising if Americans are “anti-intellectual?” Shouldn’t intellectuals be asking why do they hate us?

You’d think that a president, described recently by a supporter(!) as a budding anthropologist, eager to study those strange, mystical creatures known as Americans, would investigate that.


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