"We Are The Ones We've Been Waiting For"

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Just a quick note about an Obama line that has drawn a lot of derision. I can see why. There's an element of messianic self-regard about the sentence. And I sure hope Obama doesn't get too cocky or begins to get carried away by the wave of support he has inspired.

But I think some have missed a nuance. The phrase is actually a self-indictment as well as a self-congratulation. The point is surely that we shouldn't wait for someone else to save us, or lift us up, or fix our problems or address our fate. We are the only ones who can do this. And we're responsible for our own failure. The sentence is actually a criticism of Obama's own supporters.

What makes Obama's liberalism different from both the technocratic meliorism of the Clintons and the 1970s big government liberalism that preceded it is that it is an inclusive, self-help kind of liberalism. It is participatory, not passive. It is not about government saving us; it is about us saving the government.

Now, I don't share a lot of what Obama favors in domestic policy (but then I'm pretty disgusted by Bush's policies as well). I'd prefer to see self-empowerment work outside the channels of government. But he defuses my libertarian impulses by his emphasis on participation and self-help. If I'm going to have to tolerate big spending liberalism, I'd rather have Obama's version than Bush's. And that has been the choice. At least Obama will pay for his redistributionism by taxing Americans rather than borrowing it indefinitely from the Chinese. And if you want to blame anyone for making America safe again for liberalism, the current White House is where you should direct your ire. Once a Republican has said that government's purpose is to help people who hurt, who can blame a Democrat for following through? In fact, Obama's left-liberalism is not quite as paternalist as Bush's. And it comes with fewer theological strings attached.

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