Political analyst and pollster Michael Barone has uncovered some fascinating trends in the battle for the Democratic nomination between Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hilary Clinton. Obama invariably wins college and university towns and state capitals – i.e., the redoubts of the talking classes; Clinton dominates in those counties where the majority of voters might be described as Jacksonian democrats.
Barone's Jacksonian democrats are typically of Scotch-Irish stock (though many white Catholic males of later immigrant groups fit the profile.) Primary among the core values of the Jacksonian democrats is the belief in liberty, including, crucially, the willingness to fight to preserve that liberty. They are fiercely independent and can be a combative lot – think the Hatfields and the McCoys. "Live free or die" might serve well as their motto.
Freedom of speech and the right to bear arms rank high on the list of personal liberties that they value. In international affairs, their independence translates into dedication to the preservation of American sovereignty and support for a strong American military.
The Jacksonian values also happen to be those that are most quintessentially American, particularly for those who see America, in Lincoln's words, as "the last best hope of mankind." The promotion of liberty and democracy has played a far more prominent role in American foreign policy than that of any other nation. The United States is the only country in the world (with the possible exception of Australia under John Howard) that shows any inclination to join the battle against Islamic jihadism. Americans remain jealous of their sovereignty. They are reluctant to submit to the authority of multi-national organizations, particularly ones dominated by totalitarian regimes, and quick to resist treaty obligations that threaten their sovereignty, whether they be those of the International Criminal Court or the Kyoto Protocols.
Free speech is better protected in the United States today than in Europe or Canada, where various human rights councils have stifled free political speech in the name of "cultural sensitivity." In Europe and Canada, it is impossible to even freely discuss the threat posed to the West by radical Islam without running afoul of the official censors, as columnist Mark Steyn has recently learned after being dragged in front of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. American uniqueness, in the description of historian Louis Hartz, lies in the failure of radical left-wing movements to take hold, and one consequence of that failure has been the relative immunity to the totalitarian impulse to suppress free speech in the service of higher values. Only on American university campuses do speech codes threaten freedom of speech.
These core Jacksonian values explain in large part why the United States is the only country in the world in which Israel enjoys overwhelming popular support. As David Wurmser, a former senior advisor to Vice-President Cheney, has written, Americans support Israel because they see the Jews of Israel as doughty defenders of common values, who rely on no one but themselves to protect their homes and families against a host of enemies.
Of course, American religiosity – another crucial component of American uniqueness – also helps explain the widespread support for Israel, which for millions of evangelical Christians is the fulfillment of the Biblical promise to Abraham. Religiosity in America tends to reinforce core Jacksonian values. Religion is the great antidote to moral relativism, and the more one is inclined to think that all morality is not just a lifestyle choice, the more inclined he will be to fight to protect those moral values.
Not without reason do hatred of America and hatred of Israel go together, and not only in the Muslim world, but in much of Europe as well. Both are portrayed as belligerent, "cowboy" nations, always eager to solve every issue by force of arms. Both are criticized for their unwillingness to submit their fates to the dictates of various wise-men – the drafters of international treaties, expounders of customary international law, non-profit organizations, and the U.N.
BARACK OBAMA WILL NOT BE THE NEXT PRESIDENT of the United States because he is more in tune with critiques of America than with its most cherished values. His defeat, when it comes, will have nothing to do with the color of his skin. Indeed as black social critic Shelby Steele has noted, were it not for his race Barack Obama would not be anywhere close to the presidency now: For all his vaunted oratorical skills, his speeches have consisted primarily of high-toned vagaries, unattached to any policy prescriptions that would set him apart from his fellow Democrats. Obama has described himself as a sort of tabla rasa upon whom each can project his own views, sort of like Chance, the moron gardener in Jerzy Kozinski's satire Being There, whose repetition of television commercials propels him towards the presidency. His greatest political asset is the absolution he offers Americans from a history of slavery and segregation if they elect him president.
Obama's problem is not race. It is that he consorts too easily with those whose hatred of America is deep and visceral and attracts them to his banner like moths to the light. He does not believe the lunatic rantings of his "spiritual mentor" Jeremiah Wright about the U.S. government infecting black people with AIDS – indeed; I don't even think that Wright believes such things. But I'm troubled by his willingness to expose himself and his children to Wright's invocations of divine wrath against America, by campaign offices adorned with posters of Che Gueverra, the architect of the Cuban gulag, and by his long friendship with heir turned terrorist William Ayers, who even today (after we know the toll in millions of lives of the U.S. withdrawal from Southeast Asia those bombs were designed to expedite) frets that his terrorist bombs killed too few "pigs" not too many.
With regard to Obama's actual attitudes towards America undoubtedly the most revealing indicator is the statement of his wife Michelle that nothing in her adult life had given her cause to feel proud of America until her husband's meteoric political rise.
Even if Obama were free of all the animus towards America of those with whom he associates, his basic worldview could hardly be further removed from that of the Jacksonian democrats. His is the prevalent worldview of European elites and Ivy League campuses, one that might be called irrational "rationalism" by virtue of its disconnect from the realities of the world and human nature. The central premise of that worldview is that virtually all conflicts can be solved by talk and more talk. Thus Obama's signature foreign policy promise has been that he will immediately engage in unconditional talks with Iran, North Korea, and Syria, as if the only problem with these folks until now has been that we weren't sufficiently nice to them.
Negotiations, signed agreements, peace processes are the universal solvent, according the "rationalist" perspective, because all men basically seek the same things – a bit more power, improved material circumstances, a few more physical pleasures – and competition over these goods is amenable to bargaining and re-slicing the pie.
The "rationalists" attribute to others only those desires they recognize in their own hearts. Religion, in whatever form, is from the rationalist perspective always something vaguely insane. Thus Obama's contemptuous dismissal of the religiosity of out-of-work factory workers as an irrational refuge from economic failure. The failure to take religion seriously, however, makes it hard for the "rationalists" to credit the jihadis' continual call for international domination in the name of A-llah and willingness to wage perpetual war to impose Sharia around the globe. Nor can they comprehend the attraction of radical Islam, and so must always attribute actions carried out in its name to more mundane causes like poverty and despair.
"Rationalists" take little account of those things that are not easily measured. For that reason, they consistently underestimate the impact of national will on the fate of nations. That failure is most evident in Barack's call for speedy withdrawal from Iraq without any regard to what such a withdrawal would do to the will of those who seek to defend the West from the Islamist threat or to the Islamists' belief in their own eventual triumph.
If talk works as well as the "rationalists" believe, then military power is just a waste of money. That has long been the view of the Europeans, who are content to let American weapons and troops defend them, while continually cutting their own defense spending. And it is the view of Barack Obama, who promises to cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful expenditures from the United States defense budget by ending investment in "unproven" missile defense systems and slowing down development of future combat systems.
Obama's sole acknowledgement that American might ever need to employ military force was his threat to send U.S. bombers against tribal regions of Pakistan after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Only the general understanding that he was only flexing for the cameras prevented anyone from pointing out how profoundly unserious his threats against a nuclear Pakistan were.
THERE IS GOOD NEWS for American Jews – or the dwindling percentage thereof for whom the fate of Israel is uppermost in their minds -- in the fact that Obama is out-of-touch with mainstream American society. He would clearly be bad for Israel, at least as Israel's interests are perceived by the five million Jews living there and who will bear the consequence of any miscalculations on Israel's part.
Forget about the various Obama foreign policy advisors whose hostility to Israel is both long-standings and well-documented – the Brezenskis, father and son, Samantha Powers, and Robert Malley. Forget about the fact that his "spiritual mentor" is tight with Louis Farrakhan and considers 9/11, in part, payback for American support for Israel. Forget about Hamas's unofficial endorsement. Forget even about the ties of Obama's long-time fundraiser and benefactor Tony Rezko with those implicated in fundraising for various Hamas charities.
Leave all these things aside and take the senator from Illinois at his word when he declares his strong support of Israel and his recognition of Israel's status has a trusted and vital ally of America. His worldview still ensures trouble for Israel. For one thing, the chances of Obama doing anything to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons are nil. In the general election campaign, he will attack John McCain as a dangerous warmonger who might just attack Iran. And if Israel did the job itself and set back the Iranian nuclear program a few years, he would likely be among those charging Israel with having acted irresponsibly. (Remember that even President Ronald Reagan condemned Israel's destruction of Iraq's nuclear facility at Osirak in 1981.)
Even when Obama says all the things necessary to soothe the consciences of Jews desperately eager to vote for him, he is careful to note that he – like them -- is a strong supporter of Israel, not of the Likud. In so doing, he is perhaps hinting to the charge of University of Chicago colleague John Mearsheimer that it was Likud supporters in the U.S. Defense Department who led America into Iraq in the first place. Certainly, he is signaling that he will be no less demanding on any Israeli government than President Bill Clinton was on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party. That means pushing Israel into new concessions to maintain the momentum of a peace process that never seems to bring peace any closer.
Barack Obama avers that he is in favor to the "common-sense" solution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict – i.e., Israel's return of most territory captured in 1967 in return for peace. But that very statement presupposes that there is a solution, that there are two parties who seek to live in peace with one another. That supposition derives from a worldview that cannot even take into account the possibility that the Palestinians are more intent on destroying Israel than on building a flourishing polity of their own. Yet even new historian Benny Morris now admits that the expulsion of the Jews has been the thrust of Palestinian politics since the pre-State days of the Mohammad Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and an ardent supporter of Hitler, ym"sh, to the present.
No people are more fearful of charges of dual loyalty than American Jews. And no people are more susceptible to the emotional blackmail of being told that it is racism to vote against Barack Obama. Happily, then, American Jews in the campaign ahead need not focus on outing Obama as a threat to Israel or trashing the links of his supporters to various anti-Israel terror groups. It will be enough to focus on how radically out of touch he is with core American values and the dangers of an Obama presidency for America.