But as an analysis of what’s actually going through the minds of those same sophisticated conservatives as they say nice things about Obama now - and especially of what’s going through the mind of David Brooks - this imputation of machiavellian bad faith seems like the purest nonsense.
I don’t know who is supposed to be counted among the “sophisticated conservatives” in question, but assuming we are talking about all the conservatives, including Brooks, who have been heaping praise on Obama in the last six months I have to agree with Ross. The typical Obama-praise is paired with an immediate statement of Obama-fear: “Obama is a wonderful proponent of liberalism, and I would much rather live in an America with Obama liberals, but he is so wonderful that he may destroy the right for a generation.” This is a bit exaggerated, but this is basically the refrain one hears. Granted, this response to Obama sounds like a parody because it is so excessive and slightly detached from reality, and so naturally inspires a cynical response from those on the left who are not nearly as smitten with Obama’s supposed potential for landslide victory and realignment. “What’s their game? They must think Obama is an easy target–nothing else explains this overflowing panegyric!” Some of the Obama-praise is getting pretty embarrassing, and if his admirers are right they are actually enabling the landslide victory they fear by providing all of these very friendly quotes that his staff can dig up and put in campaign commercials. “Even so-and-so of The National Review thinks Obama is just swell, so you have nothing to worry about.”
Obama undoubtedly generates a lot of enthusiasm, especially among the young and the unthinking, but what is striking is how little enthusiasm he generates among bloggers, pundits and activists on the left. For example, Kos can barely bring himself to vote for him, and emphasises that he will not be “supporting” him actively. If Obama were the Democrats’ Reagan and the leading progressive candidate in the race, this would almost be equivalent to the editor of Human Events grudgingly saying that he would support Reagan if he really had to do it. Therein lies an important clue: Obama is neither the progressive movement leader nor the realignment-making, revolutionary political figure of conservatives’ nightmares. This is not someone who toiled in the trenches for past progressive candidates at the national level for more than a decade, nor is it someone who built up a large, loyal following and then launched a national campaign. Instead, he has descended as if from on high, translating airy speeches and media frenzy into political capital to manufacture an Obama movement, which is coming into existence alongside and not out of the progressive institutions that have been developing in recent years. Where Reagan rose in collaboration with the conservative movement, Obama has created his own that represents a competitor of sorts with the new progressive institutions, and his style of politics represents a departure from the more pugnacious, unapologetic and polemical progressivism of the netroots, which is probably a large part of why he was received somewhat more coolly than Edwards in the beginning and continues to receive criticism for being too accommodating and conciliatory. In other words, the very things that make conservative observers think Obama has the potential to realign American politics in a pro-progressive way are the things that make the professional progressive bloggers and activists embarrassed and annoyed. This is not the making of a realignment.
But it is unmistakable that there are many on the right who seem certain that an Obama nomination spells doom for them, yet they seem willing to welcome that doom because Obama makes them feel good, whether it is feeling good about themselves or about America or about something else all together. Nothing could better capture the confusion and disarray of the American right than this emergence of a conservative Obama admiration society.