Friday, 22 February 2008

Cross-Ideological Appeal

Obama's appeal to voters across the ideological spectrum is positively the best thing about his candidacy. It certainly arouses suspicion among a fraction of liberals and progressives, and exasperation among a fraction of conservatives, but it makes perfect sense. Liberalism and conservatism coexist within every decent thinking human being.

We have been taught to think of ideology as a linear continuum between left and right. It has been my song and dance since I started writing here to point to the fallacy of that notion, even though I occasionally fall victim to it myself. There was a kernel of truth in that famous quote of Churchill's, but unfortunately he framed it in such a way as to reinforce a false dichotomy.

Churchill wrote “Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.” Today I counter that any mature adult who lacks all conservative values has no brain, and any who lacks all liberal values has no heart.

Watchblog's conservative editor Dana Tuszke has come out for Obama. This does not mean that she has abandoned her deeply felt conservative values. My wholehearted support for the same candidate does not mean I'm not still the champion of liberal and progressive causes that I've always been. It's not that either one of us is compromising on some mushy middle, though some will insist that's exactly what we're doing. We both see in one human being a principled man who can understand and empathize with both sides of an issue, but still take a position and defend it. As Paul Siegel points out, we don't have to agree on every point.

Obama has a demonstrated ability to work across the aisle to create substantive legislation. He did so in the Illinois legislature on a regular basis, including getting Republican support for the requirement that all police interrogations in homicide investigations be recorded. You can see in that single July, 2003 press release from Illinois' Republican Governor Blagojevich, that Obama's name is mentioned prominently in connection with three different pieces of legislation. Concern about police misconduct is typically labeled as a liberal cause, but when the solution addresses the concern directly without tying law enforcements hands too severely, reasonable conservatives can get behind it, because after all it serves no one for hidden misconduct to result in prosecutions of the wrong people. By having the concern of a liberal while understanding the legitimate concerns of conservatives, Obama was able to broker a deal which worked and satisfied a working majority from both sides.

In his short tenure in the United States Senate, Obama has crafted major legislation in concert with Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana to address nuclear proliferation, and significant reform legislation with the very conservative Tom Coburn of Oklahoma enforcing greater transparency in federal spending. Both these bills have passed. Perhaps neither is perfect, but both address real and pressing concerns that people across the political spectrum may share.

Three years ago I wrote of the need for cross-ideological alliances. In Obama, Americans of different stripes are seeing a bridge to span those differences and seek solutions that acknowledge the legitimate concerns of differing perspectives. It's not that every solution Obama suggests will be the magic bullet that solves some problem once and for all. He is certainly not that delusional, even if some of his supporters may be. But an approach to problem solving that lays off of vilification, concentrating instead on cooperation is sorely needed. To have such an approach be at the core of a presidency bodes well for our future.

Americans, there is no need for you to stop being liberal or conservative or moderate. Even radically liberal or radically conservative ideas should be gladly put on the table and debated. Radical thinking has helped humankind on more than one occasion. When people rail against extremism, they should instead be attacking orthodoxy. It is the inflexible thinking which insists that ideas coming from outside one's own perspective are therefore worthless which paralyzes us. Talk to people who disagree with you. LISTEN to people who disagree with you. My great hope for an Obama presidency comes not from a naive belief that his message of hope will translate into a perfect set of policies. My great hope comes from a belief that he can be a catalyst for us to move beyond our differences and slowly replace the attitudes of "my way or the highway" with a genuine concern for our future and our descendants' future.

Yes We Can!

2 comments:

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dorfl said...

The singular dimension of politics is partly die to political jounalists being incapable of handling more complexity than that ;) and escarbated by the US voting system. Sure, most other countries also talk about right and left, but it is recognized more in most european countries that there is more to politics than that.
Notable exceptions is the UK and France, which are just as one-dimensional and divided as the US, and also, surprise, surprise, have single-person constituencies.

Just a small comment... :)