On the first anniversary of the World According to Obama pundits will be working overtime gauging the success or failures of the President in 2009. I would like to leave the minutia of his performance to others and examine instead who exactly is Barrack Obama. We have been told since the election that he was merely a post partisan pragmatist but I propose he is, like any new and improved laundry detergent, nothing more than a repackaged version of the same failed promise.
We can trace the ideological beginnings of this promise back to Marx and over the last century there have been several iterations of the idea that communal organization would be the perfected society.
In Russia, revolutionary communism upended the social order with promises of bringing Russia into modernity. The Russian experiment appealed to those in the United States that felt that political Progressivism was moving too slowly towards utopian goals. This split was apparent in the fractured labor movement which spawned the political Socialist Party, the activist Socialist Labor Party and its short lived radical step brother, the apolitical International Workers of the World.
By the 1960s the obvious failures of revolutionary communism did not kill what had by then become the religion of the left in the west. Most fellow travelers were appalled by the invasion of Eastern Europe in ’68 but even then they did not reject the religion; it only necessitated a repackaging. By replacing Marx’s proletariat revolutionary with the intellectual elite they proposed that you could create a multicultural utopia where social and economic conditions are free from misery real and imagined. The result is the elitist egalitarianism which Obama exudes and dominates the democratic leadership today.
Political scientist Kenneth Minogue identified this new and improved communism as Olympianism. In a 2003 New Criterion article which I have dissected to focus on how this effort is being played out on the national level Minogue wrote;
The foundational elitism of the Olympian lies in the self ascribed rationality generally picked up on the academic campus. Egalitarianism involves adherence to democracy as a rejection of all forms of rational authority but with no commitment to taking any series notice of what the people actually think. Olympians instruct mortals they do not obey them…
Equally ideally, democracy is the only tolerable mode of social coordination but until the majority of people have become enlightened, it must be constrained within a framework of rights, to which Olympian legislation is constantly adding.
Without these restraints, progress would be in danger from reactionary populism appealing to prejudice. The overriding passion of the Olympian is thus to educate the ignorant and everything is treated in educational terms. Laws for example are enacted not only to shape the conduct of people but also to send messages to them…
I’m sure we could cite a pagefull of examples of how this has played out over the past year; from the president rejecting American Exceptionalism, Congress ignoring public opinion, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin granting us the “right" to health care. Or the administration attacks on the Tea Party movement.
The best example however may be that the American public is keen to Olympianism and the growing backlash is palpable. As David Brooks wrote last week, “The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.” Americans are able to see through the new and improved label.
Cf: Kenneth Minogue. “Christophobia” and the West. The New Centurion, June 2003