Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Obama and Girondinism

This NRO article is sufficiently over the top that I probably should leave it alone. Except a single line -- the crack about the Obama administration's "attempt to realize the vision of the 1960s" -- grated in a very particular way that led me to want to get out something I've been thinking for a while.

Which is that Barack Obama is a Girondin according to the idiosyncratic typology I set out in this post. This demands full-on, Atlantic Monthly-style exposition, but Obama may be one of the purest Girondin figures in our national life. Much of his rhetoric about post-partisanship and post-racialism might have been fluff, sure, but it was fluff tailor-made to appeal to Girondins' penchant for compromise and moderation. As annoying as David Brooks often is, I find him indispensable because he understands Girondinism better than any other writer of comparable stature. He wrote the book on Girondinism, after all, which is why he "gets" Obama better than most conservative writers.

Back circa 1999, a high school friend of mine and I were sitting around the lounge of our school, fretting about where we'd go to college. I wondered aloud if, somewhere, there was some American high school senior so perfect that he or she didn't suffer from any of our anxieties. The two of us started sketching this imaginary person's profile. High SATs and grades were necessary, of course, but plenty of our friends had those credentials in spades and we still didn't sleep easy at night. Our ideal applicant should be "diverse," which probably meant black. No, wait, biracial might be better. Having lived abroad at some point would have been good. And he should also an excellent athlete -- maybe a basketball player -- and naturally charismatic and gifted at public speaking. It was disconcerting, some five years later, to see how closely Barack Obama approached the left pro-meritocracy Word made Flesh.

The corollary to Obama's being Girondin, of course, is that he is not a Montagnard. Kahane -- and plenty of other writers -- seem eager to assume that Obama is. It's the wrong tactic. Girondins and Montagnards shouldn't be fought the same way. Better that what's left of the American right focus on trying to understand Girondinism and attack it for what it is, rather than re-fighting the Montagnard battles of yore.

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