Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Great Expectations

Last week I wrote that true conservatism or liberalism is driven by our view of human nature, and the type of government that is best suited to it. I linked to a piece by David Mamet in which he realizes that his view of human nature made him a natural conservative.

In the April 17th issue of Rolling Stone, the musician Dave Matthews gives an interview on Barack Obama in which he shows how many Obama supporters are true liberals, in the sense that they believe Barack Obama can inspire us to change the world. This is in line with the perfectionist view of human nature. Here’s Matthews:

“The most important qualification a candidate can possess is being able to inspire people to want to do things for the country. He makes me feel like it’s possible to change the world…it’s a rare jewel that can move us to be our very best.”

I realize Dave Matthews is not the spokesperson for Obama supporters, but I think his views are representative. Reading this – and many other things like it – makes me realize how high the bar will be for an Obama Presidency. McCain supporters have reasonable expectations for a McCain Presidency. They expect (or hope) that:

- The recession will end at some point (they usually do)
- Troops will stay in Iraq, but the situation will slowly improve
- Diplomacy with our allies will improve
- The Iranian threat will be contained through some combination of stick and carrot
- Dems and GOPers will work together in greater harmony
- US soil will remain immune from terrorist attacks, as it has since 9/11, without the use of torture

Obama supporters, on the other hand, have rather higher hopes:

- The recession will end at some point (they usually do)
- U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq will begin immediately and have no negative consequences
- America will earn back the world’s respect (Matthews: “Electing Obama will so radically change how the world views us, in a positive way.”)
- Dems and GOPers will work together in greater harmony
- The Iranian threat, if there is one, will be contained through diplomacy alone
- Many more Americans will have their healthcare paid for by the government through tax increases that only affect the super-rich
- The environmental threat will be beaten back without impacting the economy
- US soil will remain immune from terrorist attacks, as it has since 9/11, without torture, Gitmo, profiling, and some sections of the Patriot Act

The point here isn’t that McCain will be a better President. Rather, it’s that expectations for an Obama Presidency are going to be significantly higher. McCain (and Clinton) supporters are hoping for a good President; Obama supporters are expecting a great one.

Obama seems to be a smart politician, so I suspect that we will begin to see a change in his rhetoric – slowly at first, after he wins the nomination, and more aggressively if he wins in November - in order to begin tamping down those expectations.

In fact, if you dig deep into the issues section of his website, you will see that he has left himself wiggle room on most issues.

For example, he promises to have American troops out of Iraq within 16 months, but adds “if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.” Anyone who has followed things closely knows there is already an organization called Al Qaeda in Iraq. In addition, most of his environmental promises have outcomes that are planned for 2025 or 2050.

My hope? If he is elected, I hope his supporters are right. Greatness does, in fact, come along once in a while, and often from unexpected places.

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