Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
Subscribe   Subscribe   MI on Facebook Find us on Twitter Find us on Instagram      


The Audacity of Pragmatism

July 09, 2008

By John H. McWhorter

"Lurching with abandon," New York Times columnist Bob Herbert said this week of Barack Obama—lurching to the right, that is. Of late, Obama has thrown his left-leaning supporters for a loop by promising, for example, to continue the faith-based initiatives of the Bush administration, voting for the continuation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act procedures that the administration has defended so cagily and defending the Supreme Court's vote in support of gun possession.

To Herbert, Obama is "zigging with the kind of reckless abandon that's guaranteed to cause disillusion."

Well, not in me.

There has evidently been a naïve hope among many that Obama would venture to run the country along the lines of his hard-left voting record in the Senate. It's interesting that they would presume this of a candidate who has given all indication of having high intelligence.

What has excited me about Obama is his sincere interest in splitting the difference between competing interests. The last time I checked, the rest of his fans were on the same bandwagon—"unity" and such.

It looks like many of these people thought bringing the nation together would mean making conservatives more liberal. The trouble with that notion is that there have been plenty of mistakes from both sides of the aisle in recent history, and so bringing the nation together, to the extent that this can happen, will mean making liberals more conservative, as well.

Obama, it seems, has the guts to act on that simple truth. Take his support for the Bush administration's faith-based initiatives. Hallelujah: The program funds neighborhood churches to help inner-city people turn their lives around. Aren't both conservatives and liberals concerned about such people?

Liberal opponents of the faith-based program have complained that some of the funded organizations discriminate by hiring on the basis of religion—but religion is, after all, the core of such organizations' identities. Funny how some of those complaining have no problem with discriminatory aspects of affirmative action, and yet they are suddenly spit-and-polish martinets when it comes to the boundary between church and state—even when the lives of poor, under-served and religiously devout people are at stake.

The college-town/Starbucks wing of the Obama fan base is, by and large, a secular crowd. Poor black and brown people, however, are not. To them, the church has a different meaning than to those for whom devout faith conjures up visions of Jerry Falwell.

Obama knows that change inner-city folk can believe in will include shunting resources to poor churches, regardless of whether doing so happens to be associated, because of historical happenstance, with Republicans. Fans who fail to understand that this is precisely what "bringing the country together" may require are recruiting Obama as a self-affirming symbol of protest, rather than supporting him for a job that requires acting in the world as it actually is.

The hue and cry over Obama's support for renewing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is more of the same. Obama has made clear that he has supported the current bill not because he would have written it as it is, but because keeping a less-than-perfect surveillance procedure in place would be better than letting it lapse after the end of the summer.

He would get down to rewriting the bill if elected, as he has also stipulated. But for now, he has ranked the gesture of sticking his finger in President Bush's eye below acknowledging the fact that there are terrorists who would like to kill more of us, and that we need even the imperfect bill in place to avert this.

Politics is about pragmatism and compromise—even for leftists, even for black ones.

Obama has a choice between righteous poses and getting elected. Many apparently would prefer that he chose the former. But leaders who are intellectual, charming and inspirational can also be politicians—in fact, they'd better be if they want to get into the White House.

Take Obama's support of the Supreme Court's recent defense of the right to bear arms. The ruling leaves cities' anti-gun policies virtually intact. Obama knows that striking a leftist pose over this issue would likely alienate segments of the white working-class whose votes he needs to become president. Why the surprise as to what choice he made?

The left will continue to cry foul all summer, the further Obama distinguishes his politics from those of Dennis Kucinich. But certainly they know that a President Obama as eternal contrarian speaking truth to power would not only be unable to break bread with Republicans in Congress, but would also run afoul of most Democrats, who are more pragmatically minded than the coffeehouse frame of mind prefers.

Those reviling his recent positions are, unwittingly, wishing for his demise. Some Obama fans, one suspects, would almost savor that as an opportunity to go martyr, decrying how the evil system thwarted the audacity of hope.

But speaking truth to power is supposed to be a beginning, not an end. I have always envisioned Obama running America, rather, the way Bill Clinton did, minus a sex scandal and the political blunders such as the Hillarycare debacle.

That is, I have imagined Barack Obama as a politician: high-minded and intelligent, but a politician. There is a difference between change you can believe in and change that just feels good to talk about.

Original Source:



Workers Don't Do Better in Unions
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, 09-02-15

The New Unemployables
Aaron M. Renn, 09-01-15

Brain Gain in Pittsburgh
Aaron M. Renn, 09-01-15

The Redistribution Fallacy
James Piereson, 09-01-15

How de Blasio Is Failing the Test of the City's Success
Nicole Gelinas, 08-31-15

Is Puerto Rico Our Greece?
Daniel DiSalvo, 08-30-15

It's the Politics, Stupid: The Limits of Pension Reform
Daniel DiSalvo, 08-28-15

The Immigrants Doctors Want: The Need for "Medical Interpreters"
Howard Husock, 08-27-15


The Manhattan Institute, a 501(c)(3), is a think tank whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas
that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.

Copyright © 2015 Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Inc. All rights reserved.

52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017
phone (212) 599-7000 / fax (212) 599-3494