January 23, 2009

Is Obama a neoconservative?

“With Barack Obama about to become president, is there any chance neoconservatives will finally return to the roost?” Gabriel Schoenfeld asked in the Wall Street Journal. If only a month ago the question would have seemed preposterous, now, according to Schoenfeld, it shouldn’t any more. And there are solid arguments for that. Obama’s insistence on the theme of “personal responsibility,” for instance, which is one purchase point for the original neocons, when they were still Democrats, back in the 70s. And what about his belief in the need for supporting and encouraging fathers’ active participation in parenting?

It was, after all, alarm about the disintegration of black families in the 1960s that helped propel rightward the liberal pillar -- and neoconservative founding father -- Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Four decades later the same problem afflicts the urban underclass. Mr. Obama's photogenic First Family serves as a more potent counter to the allure -- such as it is -- of the ghetto lifestyle than any policy initiative ever cooked up in a neoconservative think tank.
But the incoming president -- himself the son of a single mother -- not only walks the walk, he talks the talk. During the campaign he boldly told an African-American audience that "We need fathers to realize that responsibility doesn't just end at conception. . . . What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child. Any fool can have a child. . . . It's the courage to raise a child that makes you a father."

Furthermore, Obama’s foreign policy echoed many longstanding concerns of the neocons :

Even on foreign policy, Mr. Obama has an opportunity to build a coalition with hawks. Ironically, the surge in Iraq -- which Mr. Obama irresponsibly opposed -- may allow for a safe American withdrawal on something approximating the timetable he has called for. His emphasis on winning in Afghanistan and cleaning out the al Qaeda redoubt in Pakistan is common sense. His pledge not to permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons differs not a whit from President Bush's policy.
And with regard to the Gaza conflict, it is also welcome to recall that, touring the embattled Israeli town of Sderot during the campaign, Mr. Obama stated -- in words that neoconservatives are now quoting aloud -- that "if missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that."

Would Obama really do much that was different from the Bush administration? Ron Radosh asks in his blog. He reports that a left-leaning journalist, TNR’s John B. Judis called Obama’s Inaugural Address “a disappointing hodge-podge,” “too abstract” and neither “original nor compelling.” He didn’t like the call to get rid of “worn-out dogmas,” fearing, as Radosh puts it, that Obama was just not talking about those of the right.

Judis was also disturbed when Obama said that “Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” Judis writes: “This strikes me as either boilerplate or an exaggeration of the danger posed by al Qaeda. It is reminiscent of George W. Bush and his catch-all war on terror. Obama and the country clearly face grave problems overseas; but they can’t be reduced to a ‘far-reaching network.’” Really?? And reminiscent of Bush? This, as we know, is about the nastiest smear a liberal could make against Obama.

When all this is said—and much more might be said on the subject—how can we help asking ourselves whether Obama is “a liberal mugged by reality?”

A morning with Cyrano

I went to the theater this morning with a bunch of my 16/17 year old students to watch the famous play by Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, in French, its original language. It was well performed by a French professional theater company, and most students seemed to have enjoyed the experience. As for myself, my school French turned out to be very poor, but I had no problem with the below quoted and sublime passage ...

Un baiser, mais à tout prendre, qu’est-ce ?
Un serment fait d’un peu plus près, une promesse
plus précise, un aveu qui veut se confirmer,
un point rose qu’on met sur l’i du verbe aimer;
c’est un secret qui prend la bouche pour oreille,
un instant d’infini qui fait un bruit d’abeille,
une communion ayant un goût de fleur,
une façon d’un peu se respirer le coeur,
et d’un peu se goûter, au bord des lèvres, l’âme !

A kiss, when all is said,—what is it?
An oath that's ratified,—a sealed promise,
A heart’s avowal claiming confirmation,—
A rose-dot on the ‘I’ of ‘adoration,’—
A secret that to mouth, not ear, is whispered,—
Brush of a bee’s wing, that makes time eternal,—
Communion perfumed like the spring’s wild flowers,—
The heart’s relieving in the heart’s outbreathing,
When to the lips the soul’s flood rises, brimming!

Act III, Scene ix