Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The New Moderates

I think there is a new type of moderate emerging. This isn't scholarship, just thinking out loud.
Barack Obama is performing very well with college students and voters under 30. Conventional wisdom is that this is because people my age tend to be more liberal. That might be the case, but I think we're seeing something bigger, a changing of American political thought.
Lots of ink has been spilled over the transformation of American politics between the 60s and today. For much of that time we saw the calcification of a discrete political left and political right. Following that calcification (Kennedy and Goldwater were ideological opposites and personal friends) the logical next step is a villainization of the opposition. It's easier to fit a caricature for a black hat. During this period the political moderates were typically the kids in the back of the room with their arms crossed.
Inherent in political independance was a fundamental suspicion that the major parties a) did not have your best interest in mind; b) were more interested in fighting each other than solving problems; c) were probably people who couldn't hack it in a regular job OR loved the money-sex-power that politics offers in a way that other endeavors don't. This is a fine opinion to hold, but it makes it difficult to impact policy.
I think there has been a change in the last few years on what it means to be a moderate. I don't think Obama has driven this change but in some ways he is the image of this change. He is a man of faith who in his writings has a distinct preference for personal resposibility, yet he espouses largely liberal policies.
Those on the old left don't talk much about what he says about personal responsibility because this feels too conservative. Those on the right will say that his talk is mere rhetoric and when it comes to making decisions he is an old-fashioned leftists. They're both wrong.
What independants see in Obama is deliberation, a Constitutional lawyer thinking deeply about the law, someone who thinks thoroughly through issues. It's the kind of thinking you're supposed to learn at the University of Chicago, and the kind of judgement we'd like in a president.
Again, I'm an unmitigated Obama fan, but the broader point of this entry isn't "I want to kiss Obama on the mouth," he's got his flaws, is inexperienced, and his campaign has screwed the pooch for the last few weeks. My point is that there is a distinctly new way of viewing policy that is attracting young, college + educated people to Obama, and it is a legitimate change in what makes a moderate.
The politics of hope is not that hope is a strategy, rather that if we set big vision and then fill a room with smart people who think deeply about big things problems will get solved. Inspiration gives energy, but making change requires a thorough, fair, and accurate accounting of things like cost:benefit and an openness to smart people who disagree with you.
Obama's position on healthcare is an example of this type of thinking. The conservative position is idiotic because although conservatives are dead-on that the current system gives incentive to development they imagine away costs that we're already paying for. We do have universal healthcare, and it sucks. Primary care is delivered at emergencies rooms and by EMT-s. Unless we decide that our policy is to let uninsured people die (and trade in our definition of America) we will bear the cost of univeral healthcare in a sloppy and inefficient way. If we are already in essence paying for universal healthcare the real question is how to maximize on our ROI. As any business consultant worth his salt will tell you the job is about framing problems as questions and then working hard to answer them.
This same approach lends credence to the seemingly contradictory position of stronger border control and drivers licenses for undocumented workers. It also means that we think about illegal immigration not just as a legal or human rights issue (which of course it is) but as the manifestation of a labor market and the unintended consequence of US Latin-America policy.
The new moderate is searching for answers that won't fit on a fortune cookie, for intellectual rigor dedicated to problem solving rather than sophistry, and for an understanding that personal responsibility and community are intrinsically linked rather than opposing values.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ryan,
Jeff showed me your blog one time and I browsed here just now...
1) CONGRATULATIONS! i'm so excited for y'all!

2) Sometime pre-November, we should have an election debate. I don't consider myself democrat or republican, but I think Obama is the scariest thing that could happen to America...and my reasons for that include both international and domestic concerns. Anyway I won't flood your blog with my opinions, but it'd be fun to talk about some time :)

Have fun with pre-baby stuff!!

6:17 AM  

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