Obama shows a positive and a negative in interview
In Barack Obama's recent hourlong interview with Chris Wallace, on Fox-TV — an interview I managed to sit all the way through (yes, it was a chore, given how much of it was empty rhetoric) — the senator advanced one promising idea and also revealed a rather disturbing tendency.
At one point Wallace asked whether if he became president would Sen. Obama forge any kind of link between himself and Republicans in Congress. To my mild gratification Obama responded by noting that what he has learned from Republicans over the years is that government regulation of the economy isn’t the desirable policy that many liberal democrats have taken it to be over several decades.
This is not only a hopeful sign but also differentiates the senator from his rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has been promoting the idea of “a commander in chief of the American economy.” This idea, which suggests a heavily micromanaged economic system that entails nothing but trouble in its ancient and recent history, would pretty much doom America’s relatively productive, innovative and flexible economy. It is just that idea that brought the Soviet Union’s economy to its knees and is a great threat to all those countries that are only escaping the destructive results by the temporary availability of cheap oil. Without that windfall these countries, like Venezuela, would be extremely impoverished. (And even with oil they aren’t soaring!)
So it is a good sign that at least one of the Democratic candidates who may ascend to the presidency isn’t hell-bent on turning America into a command economy. Of course, this could be nothing more than a ploy, as so many promises of politicians turn out to be. But it is something.
On the other hand, Senator Obama exhibited a tendency to speak in the manner of a monarch. He was constantly using the royal “we” in his answers to Wallace, as if he spoke not for himself, reported not his own thoughts and conduct, but represented some group or club or family. I couldn’t hear him say one “I did this,” or “I believe that.” It was always, “We went there,” “We want to do this,” etc. What does this suggest?
For one, it seems that Obama does not prefer taking responsibility for anything, either in his campaign for the nomination or as a possible winner of either the Democratic nomination or the general election. Or does it mean that he is trying to appear very humble, not seeming to take credit for anything? But this is pretty much the same thing. Refusing to take credit also implies the refusal to accept responsibility.
The constant use of “we” could also signal a more fundamental stance by Obama. It could mean that he rejects even the slightest association with American individualism, that he is an ideologically committed communitarian who has in his own mind merged himself with whatever variety of communities he belongs to. If I am asked about a project I am involved in and I always answer with a “we,” this could be appropriate if the project is actually that of a group, say a band or orchestra or corporation, of which I am a part. Such voluntary associations often pursue goals that all of the members share and nearly everything done could well be a cooperative effort. Except why one has joined the group in the first place.
But there was nothing of this in Obama’s replies to Wallace, quite the contrary. Instead he was being asked about his views, his comments on the campaign trail, his plans for the future, his opinions on various geopolitical matters and every single time what came back was “We think,” “We did,” etc. I was getting more and more eager to learn who was being included in “we,” so that when the senator uses the term one could identify who all is behind the thoughts and actions being discussed. But, sadly, Wallace didn’t seem to want to go there, to ask, “Who is the ‘we’, senator, you keep referring to?”
Whatever the ultimate explanation for Obama’s constant use of “we,” it isn’t a comforting sign from anyone, including a politician. Anyone aspiring to high office ought at least to accept the fact that he or she will be in charge of some important decisions and policies and cannot escape accountability by some kind of verbal subterfuge.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Tibor Machan holds the R.C. Hoiles Chair in Business Ethics & Free Enterprise at Chapman University's Argyros School of B&E and is a research fellow at the Pacific Research Institute and Hoover Institution (Stanford). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. His most recent book is "Libertarianism Defended," (Ashgate, 2006). E-mail him at TMachan@link.freedom.com.