Obama: a man, or an idea?

I would never have thought, graduating college in 2006 with the Bush years in full swing, that we would be only two years away from Democrat control of the presidency for two full terms.

The election yesterday was important because it was a rejection of the repugnant brand of conservatism that argues government should have no ambition beyond self-immolation and individuals should have no ambition beyond themselves.

Obama is a flawed leader, but he is a deft politician. He has managed to win a national debate about a moral truth in society. One newspaper declared, “A Liberal America”, but it’s more like “A Mixed Economy America”.

For many urban states, the countervailing forces between government and private enterprise has always been understood. States like New York, California, Illinois, and Massachusetts. One does not need to make a strong case for government; people see its benefits all around them. But Obama has shown the debate can even be won in states like Virginia, Wisconsin and Ohio, however narrowly.

The Republicans now find themselves going through some soul-searching, much as the Democrats did in 2000. For a view of how that side views the world, today’s op-ed in the WSJ is a must-read. Notice the alarmism about healthcare — a “liberal entitlement dream” — and the belief that Obama did not earn his victory, so much as stumble into it. For a few years, expect the right wing to repeat, “it is better to be lucky than to be right”.

In a way, Obama’s second term is not so much about the man, but about the idea that government has a role to play in society. Under Obama’s vision, government’s role is not to whither away and die. It is to seize an opportunity to create public domestic good. It is to protect the individual’s liberty — as constitutionally mandated — wherever it may be threatened: economics, health, education, civil rights, the environment.

Making that idea the conventional wisdom would certainly help us conceive a more moral society, even within our lifetimes. Perhaps there is a reason for a little hope.

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