David Horowitz asks how conservatives should participate in Barack Obama’s inauguration. The closing paragraphs of an email I received argue that Obama’s supporters have nowhere else to go but America and by the same token, neither do conservatives. Liberals and conservatives are trapped with each other. They will certainly continue to differ but that ought not obscure the fact that in certain areas they will — and must — work together.
But today celebrating their new president are millions of Americans who never would have dreamed of celebrating their president before. Millions of Americans — visible in all their racial and ethnic variety at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday — have begun to feel a patriotic stirring because they see in this First Family a reflection of themselves.
The change is still symbolic and may not last. A lot depends on what President Obama will do, which is not a small question given how little is still known about this man and how little tested he remains. Some of this patriotism may be of the sunshine variety– in for a day or a season, when the costs are not great. Or, more cynically: In to show that their hatred for America is really just another form of political “dissent.” Yet whatever the nature of these changes they cannot for now be discounted. Consider: When President Obama commits this nation to war against the Islamic terrorists, as he already has in Afghanistan, he will take millions of previously alienated and disaffected Americans with him, and they will support our troops in a way that most of his party has refused to support them until now. When another liberal, Bill Clinton went to war from the air, there was no anti-war movement in the streets or in his party’s ranks to oppose him. That is an encouraging fact for us in the dangerous world we confront.
If it seems unfair that Barack Obama should be the source of a new patriotism – albeit of untested mettle — life is unfair. If the Obama future is uncertain and fraught with unseen perils, conservatives can deal with those perils as they come. What matters today is that many Americans have begun to join their country’s cause, and conservatives should celebrate that fact and encourage it. What matters now is that the American dream with its enormous power to inspire at home and abroad is back in business. What it means is that the race card has been played out and America can once again see itself — and be seen — for what it is: a land of incomparable opportunity, incomparable tolerance, and justice for all. Conservative values — individual responsibility, equal opportunity, racial and ethnic pluralism, and family — are now symbolically embedded in the American White House. As a result a great dimension of American power has been restored. Will these values be supported, strengthened, put into practice? It is up to us to see that they are.
I think the major political battle line in coming years will be, not between liberal and conservative, but between left and far left. The election of 2008, together with the damage to the conservative brand caused by the financial meltdown and the lack of a charismatic leader means that conservatives are spent force for the time being.
My guess is that Obama himself knows this. He’s knows that the greater threat to his power comes from within the Democratic Party itself. Many of his “centrist” appointments can be interpreted as defenses against — for want of a better term — the extreme left; or if that term is misleading, then against “other factions”. I hardly think he is worried about a resurgence from John McCain. On reading Horowitz’s argument and thinking of the obvious objections to it, I had to remind myself that David has an almost preternatural instinct for the dynamic of the left. He “reads” them far more clearly than most because he is their fallen angel.
And I think his intuition has led him to advocate a conservative ‘openness’ to Obama because it’s role — maybe its only role — in the near future is not as an independent force, but as an ally in the coming struggle between left and further left. I think the conservative movement will find it hard to think of itself as being in a prolonged second-fiddle position rather than in its accustomed role as the main “other” party. But is that in fact the case? I’m not sure, but an it’s an interesting proposition to consider.
Conservatives face a period of rebuilding and finding new leaders. But what can it achieve within the near term in its weakened state? Hold out their hands for consolation prizes, as some Republican politicians have already done? Embark on a program of unwavering opposition to Obama, as some have suggested? Either path may be a recipe for political suicide. Or should it act, as Britain did when Napoleon conquered the Continent, as the arbiter of the balance of power?
While I do not mean to draw a parallel between America in 2009 and Russia in 1917, it is interesting to remember that the only game for a time was whether to support a party of the Left, the Mensheviks, who were trying to prop up the provisional government, or support a party of the Extreme Left, the Bolsheviks, were trying to topple it. The monarchy was no longer a contender; they could only choose from what was on the menu, however unpalatable they were.
Even those who completely mistrust Barack Obama may want to consider whether it is wise or even possible to sit out the next four years in a fit of pique or high minded principle; or whether it is necessary to simply get into the arena and fight. Personally I don’t have the answer. But I think that the Horowitz piece indirectly poses the question.