Obama’s Small Town Values – Not

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I posted this piece at What I Saw In America on Friday last; for any readers of both these sites, I apologize for the redundancy.  However, I think this posting is highly relevant to the discussions here on the porch…

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Alexandria, VA In a column published last week, David Brooks writes of the remarkably conservative nature of President Obama’s recent pronouncements on the economy. Rather than sounding like and “economic liberal” – concerned above all with the equalization of wealth – President Obama “sounded like a cultural conservative.”

America once had a responsible economic culture, Obama argued. People used to save their pennies to buy their dream houses. Banks used to lend by ‘traditional standards.’ Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used to stick to their ‘traditional mandate.’ Companies like AIG used to limit themselves to the ‘traditional insurance business.’

But these traditions broke down, Obama continued. They were swamped by irresponsibility. Businesspeople chased ‘short-term profits’ over long-term investments. Smart people spent more time manipulating numbers and symbols rather than actually making things. Americans consumed too much and saved too little. America became corrupted by ‘excessive debt,’ ‘reckless speculation’ and ‘fleeting profits.’

Brooks continues that “if Republicans aren’t nervous, they should be. Obama is arguing for his activist agenda not on the basis of class-consciousness, which is alien to America, but as a defense of middle-class morality, which is central to it. Obama is positioning the Democrats as the party of order, responsibility and small-town values. If he pulls this mantle away from the Republicans, it would be the greatest train robbery in American politics.”

Tut tut, David. We are now coming out of a period when the central message of the Republican Party – which was regnant in the Presidency during twenty of the past twenty-nine years – was a that of “individual responsibility,” “family values,” and the valorization of the traditional virtues over forms of liberal irresponsibility. Over that same time period what we have decisively witnessed is the overall decline of all of these desiderata. Whether in the economy, the role of the family, adherence to traditional religious belief, or the health of “small towns,” we have witnessed a steady and breathtakingly rapid decline of every measure of “traditional” ways of life. Relying on the virtues purportedly generated by the “Free Market” rather than “Big Government,” Republicans were willing to accommodate themselves to the myriad ways that the expansion of the particular market system they generally supported actively undermined the very virtues to which they were simultaneously paying lip service. Now we are being told that it is in fact Big Government that can supply the necessary underpinnings for shoring up “traditional values.” Really? Given this woeful disconnect between the rhetoric of a regnant Party and the actual facts on the ground in the world, why should we credit for a moment the extolling of “traditional values” in one speech, now by a Democrat? Yes, Brooks is right that Republicans have reason to be fearful, inasmuch as his “traditionalist” rhetoric represents a serious political threat. But, should conservatives be heartened? At the very least we might be curious whether there seems to be evidence of “money” where the President’s mouth is. And, by this test, I see as little evidence of an actual commitment to the realization of a traditional culture that actually supports traditional values of the sort commended by President Obama as I have in the past thirty years dominated by “conservatives.”

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