Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Would Barack Obama be better than Jimmy Carter?

I know several Bush voters who are thinking about voting for Obama if he is the nominee. Besides Ann Coulter, I haven't come across any Bush voters who are voting for Clinton if she is the nominee.

But Obama's soaring rhetoric is a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, it unites the country, rather than playing the politics of division. On the other, it can mask serious deficiencies in foreign policy.

Which brings me to the comparison with Jimmy Carter. James Taranto has great food for thought:

Time reported contemporaneously on the interview under the assumption that Carter was simply pandering to the kind of man who reads Playboy. Yet it really does seem to shed some light on Carter's worldview more broadly, and on liberal sanctimony more generally.

Carter focuses on one particular sin--pride--and suggests that it is more problematic than lust or even adultery. In this telling, we all are subject to lust, even Jimmy Carter. Some of us succumb to it, and some do not. If you are one of those who do not, it is a sin for you to think that makes you a superior man.

So far, so good. But the Carter of the Playboy interview does not measure up to his own standard. He begins by acknowledging his own lustfulness, but then describes a hypothetical man who "leaves his wife and shacks up with somebody out of wedlock" and one who "screws a whole bunch of women." Carter's protestations notwithstanding, there is no escaping that this comparison is highly favorable to him.

Why does Carter feel it necessary to contrast others' reprobate behavior with his own relatively innocent conduct? Not, he asserts, because he thinks he is better than anyone else, but precisely because he thinks he isn't. Not only does he live a sexually upright life, but he isn't proud of it. He wants everyone to know that he has risen above the sin of pride. But that proves that he has not.

Carter's formulation of morality is entirely self-centered. For his purposes, the adulterer and the lothario exist only as instruments, enabling him to display his own ability to be nonjudgmental. What does not figure into Carter's equation at all is the wife and children the adulterer betrays, or the string of women the lothario uses. It is a morality in which intention counts for everything and consequences for nothing.

This is where the analogy to a certain kind of liberal foreign policy becomes clear. The idea is that America (or another Western country, usually Israel) is not perfect, and therefore has no business passing judgment on the affairs of its adversaries. All nations, like all men, are predisposed to sin, and the greatest national sin of all is for a dominant power to exhibit pride. By this reasoning, it is morally worse for an American leader to call (say) the regimes of North Korea, Iran and Saddam Hussein's Iraq "evil" than it is for those regimes to undertake actions that deliberately hurt or endanger innocent people.

When applied to public as opposed to private morality, this kind of above-it-all attitude, this self-regard masquerading as humility, provides an excuse for inaction in the face of evil. To be sure, sometimes inaction is a wise course, because available actions would only make matters worse. But this is a practical question--one of consequences, not intention.

To make the perfect the enemy of the good, to make a principle of responding to evil with inaction, is a dangerous way to approach the world. That should have been the lesson of the Carter presidency. It is a lesson American voters would do well to keep in mind as November approaches.

Worst case? If 4 years of a Carter bust can bring about 20 years of a Reagan-Bush-Clinton boom, I think it's a good trade. Of course, in the long run we're all ... you know, not around here anymore.

I have no idea who I am voting for. Consequences are important--book smart is nothing compared to market smart (i.e. my teachers and students loved me, but I couldn't feed my family).
I'd rather be governed by a wise Turk rather than a foolish Christian--Martin Luther

UPDATE: James Dobson and Rush Limbaugh are anti-McCain Bush voters, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment