Strong opinions, weakly held

Mark Lilla reviews the conservative mental state

The Great Disconnect

In what was probably the best piece of political writing I’ve read this year, Mark Lilla discusses the huge gap between how Obama-hating conservatives and sane people perceive the Obama presidency. This describes an experience many of us have had:

Whenever conservatives talk to me about Barack Obama, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. But what exactly? The anger, the suspicion, the freestyle fantasizing have no perceptible object in the space-time continuum that centrist Democrats like me inhabit. What are we missing?

He doesn’t get any closer to an explanation than anyone else I’ve read, but he describes the phenomenon fantastically well.


  1. A few weeks ago I was listening to NPR when they went to Florida. They talked to this fellow that owned a market. He said his gut feeling was that Obama was going to do something bad with taxes and regulation…although he didn’t think Obama had done anything yet. So, despite the lack of evidence, I think there are a lot of people who have an unreasonable fear of what “might” happen, and they vent that fear at Obama.

    “I just think because I am an independent little-business guy, I think we’re getting pushed around a little bit, you know,” he says. “It seems like there’s going to be a bunch of taxes and things [that are] going to affect us.

    “From what I’ve heard — there’s going to be some more regulations and more rules and more laws.”

    He says nothing has really changed yet, “but I have the feeling.”


  2. Probably related, a classic that’s definitely relevant: The paranoid style in American politics

    Meanwhile: this entry, and at least one other that leads with a link, can only be found in isolation by going through the RSS feed. Is that deliberate?

  3. Not intentional. Where are they not showing up? They’re on the home page as well right?

  4. [Ugh. You can delete this verbiage from the other entry where I inadvertently commented.]

    Ohhh. I see it now. I was wrong, at least in part. This entry and e.g. http://rc3.org/2012/09/29/columnist-jon-carroll-explains-the-well/ want for text permalinks and visible entry titles, though the comment links wrapped around the images in the leftmost column still work.

    The point, I suppose, is that your theme logic is treating some posts differently than others, and those of us who expect the same signposts (for now, just me) on all entries are confused.

    I wasn’t expecting to hit you with a UX case study, but there ya go.

  5. I could also argue there is a huge gap between how Obama-loving progressives and sane people perceive the Obama presidency.

    I’m a Republican leaning independent and out of five elections I have only voted for a Republican once. I quite simply do not understand how any sane person thinks Obama would make a good President. Would he make a slightly less worse President than Romney? That’s debatable. However, to suggest…

    Seen from our perspective, the country elected a moderate and cautious straight shooter committed to getting things right

    …is quite simple amazing. I see nothing about Obama that says moderate, cautious, straight shooter or wants to get things right. In fact, I see radical, reckless, deceiver who just wants to get his way. I guess this makes me insane.

  6. I would be curious to know which of his policies evidence this radicalism.

  7. A few off the top of my head…

    • Signing the NDDA of 2012 which allowed the indefinite detention of US citizens without trial
    • Voiding established bankruptcy law and giving large shares of GM/Chrysler to the Auto Unions over other more senior debtors.
    • Signing a health care law that will do nothing to reduce the cost of health care.
    • Running up $5 trillion in debt in three and a half years, after he called the previous President unpatriotic for running up the same amount over 8 years.
    • “Compromising” with House Republicans and Senate Democrats to cut taxes and increase spending as part of numerous budget deals.
    • I’d also go with his heavy use of executive orders to try an end around Congress.

    At least in my opinion, those are his radical policies. Though, I guess many would see them as mainstream or moderate, which would explain why we have $16 trillion in debt and no major party that wants to admit the promises our government has made can’t be kept.

  8. Looks like I’m a bit late to the party, but I just read the article in my feed reader.

    To Jeff:

    I’ll say I’m an Obama supporter and don’t see things exactly as you do, but I’m not so deep down the well of admiration that I’m going to say he’s perfect..

    To take each of the points you laid out and make a response to them:

    1) The NDDA: agree here. Obama on civil liberties has really done nothing to change things from the Bush administration and has in some ways made things worse. I don’t agree with the assassination of any US citizen without a trial, no matter how closely connected to extremists they maybe. At least Obama has put an end to torture, although he has failed to uphold the law and prosecute those responsible for it.

    2) Bankruptcy laws: I can’t say I’ve read in-depth what was done with the auto-bailout regarding the laws and who got what shares, but I would say something had to be done: if people think unemployment and the economy are bad now, how would things be if GM and Chrysler had been allowed to go under completely? They did still have to go through bankruptcy and shed assets, such as closing extraneous dealerships. When the country is facing the worst recession since the Great Depression and the genuine fear is that it will become a depression, some action is warranted, is it not?

    3) Health Care Law: You’re right in that it doesn’t do much to reduce health care costs , although I would argue even without that, it’s a good thing. Having a healthy population leads to a healthy workforce which leads to a more productive workforce. That said, it does have provisions that create trial programs to try and bring down health care costs. If any of them work, Congress can adopt and expand them. The problem is that right now no one knows what will work. It’s a start, at least, if not a lot. Obama also campaigned extensively on this and it was debated in congress for the better part of a year. This should not have been a surprise to anyone.

    4) Debt: Yes, there’s a lot of debt there. A few points: a lot was inherited that kept building under Obama. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars account for some of it (Obama does get some of the blame – he didn’t end them the day he took office and he did institue a surge in Afghanistan). Some of the debt Obama could do nothing about – unless he was going to stop the automatic expansion of food stamps and other relief programs that kick in when the economy enters a recession and as more people natural qualify for the programs. These programs keep things from getting worse, but are going to add to the debt. I think we can agree it’s one thing to gain debt in a down economy, it’s another when you enter office with a surplus and end up with massive amounts of debt. I give Bush some slack, as 9-11 clearly needed a response and that was going to cost money, but the amount of debt that was racked up is still impressive. Recall Dick Cheney saying deficits don’t matter? Clearly they do.

    5) Compromising (I also talk more about debt here): not sure why you put compromising in quotes here. Republican’s clearly aren’t going to pass anything with out some tax cuts thrown, so of course that is in there. The spending goes back directly to the relief programs and stimulus programs. You can argue that these things should not have been done, but in this I’m a Keynesian in that I think the government should spend in a down economy and tighten it’s belt in a good one. Unfortunately, with an already high debt load coming in that’s made people allergic to doing this, which makes growth come about more slowly. The US is lucky in that we have the dollar as the reserve currency so we have more room to absorb debt. Ideally, I’d love to see us spend more now to speed up the recovery and then in 3 to 5 years tighten spending. This would include defense spending and entitlements, plus other parts of the government. It is disappointing that Obama didn’t fully embrace the Simpson-Bowles commission that he set up, but it seems like he genuinely wants to move things in this direction (see failed deal with John Boehner, which appears to have been caused by a miscalculation on Obama’s part in trying to get more taxes, but it did put a lot of entitlement spending on the table).

    6) I don’t know what executive orders you’re talking about here, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some. If you have specifics, I’d love to read up on them and research them myself. Maybe you’re speaking about the immigration one for students who have lived in the US since they were small children (I think I got that right with out looking it up)? Everything I’ve read on that says the President has the power to do that, although I will admit the timing of it was convenient for Obama politically.

    I’ve probably opened a can of worms with this reply, but I hope it gives a counter-point to how someone who views themselves as a left-leaning independent sees the world. If you have additional points you want to discuss or you want to go in more depth with your points, feel free to live a comment here and I’ll do my best to reply, assuming Rafe is cool with it.

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