Obama is the Real Conservative
By Jeffrey Hart
It may be something of a surprise that, as a long time conservative, I now support Barack Obama. In 1968, I was a speechwriter first for Ronald Reagan, when Governor of California, then, as Richard Nixon became the presidential nominee, a speechwriter for Nixon, working at his home office at 450 Park Avenue. I became a senior editor at National Review in 1969, a position I held until recently.
There are common sense conservatives who are prudential, who try to match means with ends, and who calculate the probabilities of gains and risks. But there are philosophical (analytical) conservatives, the most useful being Edmund Burke, whose "Reflections on the Revolution in France" (1790) understood the great dangers in trying to change society through abstract (republican) theory. My first book that dealt with these matters was "English Political writers: From Locke to Burke" (Knopf, 1963).
One thing I know is that both Nixon and Reagan would have agreed with Obama’s speech against the Iraq War… But all the organs of the conservative movement followed Bush over the cliff—as did John McCain.
Republican President George W. Bush has not been a conservative at all, either in domestic policy or in foreign policy. He invaded Iraq on the basis of abstract theory, the very thing Burke warned against. Bush aimed to turn Iraq into a democracy, "a beacon of liberty in the Middle East," as he explained in a radio address in April 2006.
I do not recall any "conservative" publication mentioning those now memorable words "Sunni," "Shia," or "Kurds." Burke would have been appalled at the blindness to history and to social facts that characterized the writing of those so-called conservatives.
Obama did understand. In his now famous 2002 speech, while he was still a state senator in Illinois, he said: “I know that a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, of undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without international support will fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda. I'm not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.”
Burke would have agreed entirely, and admired the cogency of so few words. And one thing I know is that both Nixon and Reagan would have agreed. Both were prudential and successful conservatives. But all the organs of the conservative movement followed Bush over the cliff—as did John McCain.