[I]f one is to redefine Toryism as simply a subset of pragmatism then perhaps we're defining matters in a less than completely helpful fashion. Obama is a pragmatist and the pragmatist is careful not to rule anything out until the point at which it becomes clear that whatever that anything may be it's not something that will advance his ambitions.
Nevertheless, if Obama wants to be a transformational President of real consequence then, almost by definition, he cannot be any more a Tory than was Margaret Thatcher. Like her he will be a radical (I don't use the term in any pejorative sense, incidentally). And in the American context, in as much as these labels can ever be transferred from one side of the Atlantic to another, I think the true Tory approach to matters such as healthcare would instinctively be federalist, not federal. And not just in healthcare neither. But I see little evidence of modesty of ambition in Obama's political agenda.
But I'd argue that Thatcher was a Tory and her radicalism was a function of the crisis of governance in Britain in the late 1970s. She was a radical because in order to rescue the balance of British politics, she had to be.
And she clearly radicalized from her stance in the early 1970s when she was pretty much indistinguishable from her "wet" peers. Again, the conservative perspective refuses to see anything out of its historical context.
The case for Obama's Toryism is that he is attempting to restore America's political and social balance after a long period of deterioration, debt and polarization, deeply accelerated by the Bush-Cheney disaster. Conservatism is about providing, with apologies to David Remnick, a bridge between past and future, which respects the internal logic and traditions of the polity it operates in. This can mean radicalism in the service of balance - Thatcher/Reagan in the late 1970s; Obama today in less dramatic fashion; or it can mean just keeping a functioning show on the road to retain balance - Eisenhower/Baldwin/Major.
The beauty of actual conservatism is this flexibility, which is rooted in an antipathy to abstraction and ideology - and which is, of course, the nemesis of contemporary Republicanism - which is radical and reactionary and utterly ideological all at once.
People ask me: how can you be a conservative and support Obama?
My response is pretty simple: I support Obama because I am a conservative.
(Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty.)
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