The Corner

Obamacons Cont’d

Bruce Bartlett writes in response to my earlier post:

I noticed that you carefully avoided mentioning Jeffrey Hart or Wick Allison, who contradict your idea that the Obamacons are limited to the libertarian fringe. Here are some more “real” conservatives supporting Obama: Black conservatives conflicted on Obama campaign.”

Judging by the terseness of Bruce’s email, I fear I’ve offended him. Such was not my intent and if I misled folks by not mentioning Hart and Allison it wasn’t intentional.

But I fear I will offend him further. I think Jeffrey Hart has been on something of a “journey” for a while now and his views, while interesting and provocative, were less than representative well before anyone knew who Obama was. Recall, for example, the kerfuffle over his WSJ essay on conservatism (or see here, here, here, here, here, here and especially here). Hart is an honorable and serious fellow, and I have no desire to sully the collegiality around here unduly, but suffice it to say that I do not consider invoking Jeff Hart as proof of some sort of serious conservative movement or tide for Obama to be very persuasive.

As for Wick Allison (and his wife), I don’t know either of them, but I know plenty of people who adore Wick. And while nothing attributed to Allison in Bruce’s article as reasons for supporting Obama strikes me as very persuasive (Obama is nice, gives good speeches and has a nice life story), for all I know he represents something more significant. My only problem, again, is that the evidence marshalled by Bruce to demonstrate that Allison represents that “something” is more than a country mile short of convincing.

Which brings me to Bartlett’s touting of black conservatives looking fondly on Obama. Again, what exactly is this supposed to prove? These guys may be “real” conservatives (Bartlett’s phrase, not mine), but it’s quite obvious from the headline alone that these guys are conflicted because of the race issue, not because of their conservatism. From the article:

Just as Obama has touched black Democratic voters, he has engendered conflicting emotions among black Republicans. They revel over the possibility of a black president but wrestle with the thought that the Illinois senator doesn’t sit beside them ideologically.

Just so. If Obama was a conservative, they wouldn’t be conflicted! And neither would I, as I’d love to have a black president. That a bunch of black conservatives feel the tug of racial loyalty and pride to Obama, despite his ideological problems, is in no way proof of the idea that conservatives are rushing to Obama because there is something conservative about him. Needless to say, if Obama were white, JC Watts wouldn’t be considering a vote for Obama.

Again, I like Bruce and I share many of his problems with Bush and what’s happened to the Republican Party (he doesn’t describe himself as an Obamacon either). I think his books on Bush and race are extremely worthwhile. And, I am hardly surprised, given the political climate and Obama’s gifts, that Obama is attracting some seemingly unlikely fans. But, I think the “Obamacon” phenomena isn’t hardly as profound or significant as Bruce suggests. Every election year you see some of this sort of thing. In 1992, my old boss Ben Wattenberg along with a slew of other self-described neocons endorsed Clinton. So did William Safire. George Will encouraged conservatives to write in Jack Kemp (I seem to recall). Peter Viereck (a very Jeff Hartian fellow) supported Adlai Stevenson over Eisenhower.

Bruce is an economist, so maybe this will help explain where I’m coming from. Every election year generates a lot of noise in the data; outliers, random events, etc. Generally speaking, I think the Obamacons are less a movement and more a lot of noise in the data. And, it seems that most Obamacons support Obama for reasons that have very little to do with any conservative tendencies in Obama himself and more because of their anger at the GOP/Bush or their weakness for Obama’s charisma.

That doesn’t mean I think the all individuals he and others cite aren’t serious people, but I think their motivations are diverse, their arguments all over the place, and their significance very hard to determine.

Update: A reader reminds me that Jeff Hart also endorsed John Kerry in 2004.  Make of that what you will, but I don’t remember a lot of talk about “Kerry Cons.”


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