Michael Knox Beran: Obama’s Schizophrenic Politics

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The semester has started and I have been too busy assisting students to write anything. So enjoy this brief piece by Michael Knox Beran in the City Journal (online edition). Here is an excerpt:

When, on Wednesday night, the president ascended the rostrum of the House of Representatives to deliver the State of the Union Address, some believed that he would, if only from desperation, renounce the utopist within. Certainly his tone and style suggested that the conciliatory pragmatist was back in the saddle. “Let’s try common sense,” he said. Health care was no longer the main thing: jobs were. The president even made light of his inner messiah: “Now, I’m not naive. I never thought that the mere fact of my election would usher in peace and harmony and some post-partisan era.”

But the fingerprints of the passionate prophet were all over the actual proposals. If America needed jobs, the social state would take the lead in creating them. Health care might no longer be the top priority, but Congress should pass the health-care bill anyway, and while it was at it, should get cap-and-trade done, too. Of course there would be a spending freeze—but not for another year. Until then, spend away. Much as Edward Hyde makes a mockery of Henry Jekyll’s pretensions to rectitude in Robert Louis Stevenson’s fable, so the hairy imp who struggles for supremacy in Obama’s soul makes a mockery of the president’s protestations of common sense and fiscal restraint.

No politician can hope to get away with so wild an incoherency, right? Wrong. The president knows that he has gotten away with it. His double personality has been evident since he published his campaign manifesto, The Audacity of Hope, in 2006. The tone of the book is as mild and unthreatening as the most soothing of Obama’s orations. But its call to revive a politics of “social solidarity” ought to have put the reader on notice of the deeper tensions in the candidate’s soul.

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