Differing Perspectives on America
Historian Dale Light offers an interesting summary of how the candidates and their supporters view the country.
One benefit of this interminable Democrat nomination process is that fundamental issues do get discussed — no I’m not talking about health care, or foreign policy, or the war, or any of those other transitory things; I’m talking about things that really matter in the long run, such as how the candidates and their supporters see America.
By now it is clear that “Hillary!” and her supporters see America solely in terms of competing interest groups. This is pretty standard for mainstream Democrats, has been ever since the rise of the “broker state” concept in the Roosevelt years. It’s a social science vision of the country and in terms of electoral politics it consists of identifying and pandering to a sufficient number of interest groups to accumulate a majority.
Tonight in his North Carolina victory speech, “O-ba-ma!” went out of his way to disparage that sociological approach to America, emphasizing instead common approaches to common problems. This is at first glance similar to the unifying nationalistic themes on which Republican candidates have run ever since the party’s inception in the middle of the nineteenth century. But there is a significant difference. Republicans love the country for what it is and what it has been as much as for what it might be in the future. Obama, with his strong liberal and radical associations, focuses almost exclusively on negative aspects of the American experience, and talks instead about an ideal America that has never been, but which he promises to bring into existence.
I think he’s being a little too rosy with his description of Republicans, but his point is that, all in all, Republicans are more apt to view the country as a whole–the history, the institutions, the traditions–as being a net positive. (I include conservatives with this group, but they also view government as being naturally, and detrimentally, expansionistic. As the last few years have shown, not all Republicans believe this, too). I also understand Light’s point about the Clintonian factionalism, but we also have a long tradition of that in our politics, despite the express desires of the founders. Finally, Obama truly is a Progressive with a belief that a group of experts–with Obama in charge–can lead our nation to a virtual (or, to some apparently, a very real) Heaven on Earth. We just have to trust him.