A New Kind of Political Philosophy

George Packer has this piece in the New Yorker discussing Obama’s new political philosophy. He contends that Obama is focused on “the institutions that hold up American society” and he seeks “to make them function better rather than remake them altogether.” Obama’s actions, however, seem to present a sharp contrast to these lofty sentiments.

At the heart of American society is the individual, family, and small social units in our communities. Obama has shown thus far only a willingness to make these smaller social units more and more dependent on the federal government. Packer argues that the administration’s control of the U.S. auto industry is actually beneficial to families–the government is merely protecting what has been the backbone of middle class Americans for years. But in the interest of promoting “the institutions that hold up American society,” I think it would be better to let these families keep their money and pass it on.
Leaving economic issues aside, Obama’s fundamental approach to the family and smaller units in society is flawed. Packer says Obama’s approach “is not the rigid mentality of an engineer of human souls; it’s the attitude of a community organizer.” And what is more, Packer says that what Obama is doing is “a pretty good description of what used to pass for conservatism–a sense that social relations and institutions are fragile things.” Social relations are fragile things, and should be handled carefully (not only because of their fragility but also because of their importance). Yet Packer misses the point.
You see, Packer argues that these institutions are so fragile that government sometimes must step in to shore up the “equilibrium between individuals and huge economic forces, so that society does not crumble.” This is not conservatism. Conservatism is not government stepping in, it is government enabling individuals, families, and social groups to accomplish these things on their own. Conservatism is not government leveling of all community organizations to the lowest common denominator, it is government getting out of the way to allow these individual groups to flourish within their own communities and by remaining true to their own values.
The heterogeneity of American culture is part of what makes us great. To standardize the auto industry, the financial industry, and other things besides does not bode well for smaller community groups seeking to maintain their identity. The fear of some conservatives–that America is becoming a vanilla government-run nation–is not the product of a “rigid ideology” as Packer would suggest. It is a fear of losing our individuality and our freedom. It’s a fear of losing America.
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