Monday, May 05, 2008


This meditation by Nick Bromell in The American Scholar only briefly introduces Barack Obama. It devotes far more space to Frederick Douglass. But it goes a long way toward explaining Obama's appeal, especially when stacked up against a Hillary Clinton.

First, though, pity the poor American liberal of the 21st century:

Most conservatives laugh at liberals as Volvo-driving, latte-lapping, briefcase-toting bureaucrats who are soft on crime, hard on other people’s suvs, and enemies of traditional Christian values. Many progressives scorn liberals as neoliberal wolves in sheep’s clothing who pretend to care for the world’s downtrodden but actually prosper as servants of power. Both views are oversimplifications, to be sure. But they wouldn’t be so resonant if there weren’t some truth to them.

Further down he finds the germ of modern liberal anemia in a line from Hume: “The approbation of moral qualities most certainly is not derived from reason, or any comparison of ideas; but proceeds entirely from a moral taste, and from certain sentiments of pleasure or disgust, which arise upon contemplation and view of particular qualities or characters.”

Ah, the "M" word. The untouchable word. But you can't be a liberal without it, he writers, and I agree.

Aren’t Americans today impatient for liberals to rediscover what they stand for? Aren’t they eager for a liberalism that speaks out of its deepest wellsprings, a liberalism that speaks reason from the heart? The Left will not prevail by aping the anger, righteousness, and meanness of Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly. If liberals really believe in human dignity, they must remain as dignified as Douglass was. But that does not mean cutting themselves off from their emotions. Quite the opposite. As Douglass urged his readers to understand, a liberal’s deepest convictions are more than just ideas, values, or principles. They are also feelings — feelings “of justice and fair play common to every honest heart,” feelings that revolt “against popular prejudice and meanness,” feelings that are told to man by “tongues in trees, sermons in stones, and books in the running brooks.”