A Conservative of Doubt?


I've been struggling to understand this aspect of Obama's appeal - and Larissa MacFarquhar's fine profile in the New Yorker captures it extremely well. In his speeches on faith-in-doubt, in his preternatural personal calm, in his pragmatism and well-grounded sense of reality, Obama is something akin to a "conservative of doubt" and temperamentally more like one than I am. Money quote:

In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly, Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean. He distrusts abstractions, generalizations, extrapolations, projections. It’s not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good. Take health care, for example. "If you're starting from scratch," he says, "then a single-payer system" a government-managed system like Canada's, which disconnects health insurance from employment "would probably make sense. But we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside."

Of course, we also have a liberal voting record, and a lifetime among progressives. But conservatism-as-temperament is often more authentic than conservatism-as-ideology. I was also struck by this very conservative dictum that Obama seems to have taken to heart:

If everyone is family, no-one is family.

Somewhere, Burke is smiling, if only at the ironies of it all.

(Photo: Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) holds 10-month-old Claire Von Bergen of Iowa City while shaking hands with supporters after speaking on the Pentacrest at the University of Iowa April 22, 2007 in Iowa City, Iowa. The Senator spoke as part of an Earth Day celebration on the campus. By Scott Morgan/Getty Images)