Obama vs. conservatism and the health care debate

I lectured students on conservatism today. As I pointed out it is not popular among intellectual students of politics, we can recall John Stuart Mill’s famous argument that most stupid people were conservative. But as I stressed conservatism remains major force in politics. Barack Obama’s rise to the Presidency in part was due to his argument that he was better suited to facing the conservative challenge. he would potentially appeal to a broader range of voters than the polarising Hillary and in government he would be better able to overcome the  ‘culture wars’. In fact the 2008 election saw a largely uniform swing to the democrats, deviations from this mostly reflected a race driven shift among southern whites.  In government the ‘culture wars’ have had very little influence, perhaps apart from the Guantánamo bay closure which perhaps raises these concerns.indeed the left’s preoccupation with the ‘culture wars’ reflected the false belief that they alone obstructed the emergence of a progressive majority. In the case of heath care Obama has faced the stubborn conservatism of American institutions. So far he has failed. His policy of leaving the running to Congress has removed the potential weight that progressive president could bring to bear, particularly in the mobilisation of public opinion which has shifted consistently against the Democrats. We can correctly complain about the ridiculous veto power that lies with the self-appointed ‘centrist’ Senators but this is the way the system works. Conservatives may raise valid public policy concerns, in which case liberals should take these points on board  but this is quite distinct from giving individual conservatives a stake in policy making. Triangulation rather than consensus seeking perhaps? Leaving it up to Congress does this it has forced policy to the lowest common denominator. Would Hillary have done better? I suggest she would have been assertive in driving a legislative agenda,  and she would have had had more pull over conservative Democrats. Perhaps not but could it be worse?

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