Monday, November 03, 2008

Obama the Progressive

In an illuminating piece in National Review Online, editor at large Jonah Goldberg points out that President Barack Obama’s “change” is hoary with age: “There’s an old saying: The oldest word in American politics is ‘new.’ Only in that sense is there anything new to Barack Obama.”

Obama’s “vision” parallels that of Woodrow Wilson, a progressive president and “… the first to openly disparage the U.S. Constitution as a hindrance to enlightened government. His new idea was to replace it with a 'living constitution' that empowered government to evolve beyond that document’s constraints. The Bill of Rights, lamented the progressives, inhibited what the government can do to people, but it failed to delineate what it must do for people.”

In an essay on style, journalist Henry Mencken let loose on the twenty-eighth president (1913-1921), whose speeches Mencken found stirring but vacuous:

“Two or three years ago, at the height of his illustriousness, it was spoken of in whispers, as if there were something almost supernatural about its merits. I read articles, in those days, comparing it to the style of the Biblical prophets, and arguing that it vastly exceeded the manner of any living literatus. Looking backward, it is not difficult to see how that doctrine arose. Its chief sponsors, first and last, were not men who actually knew anything about the writing of English, but simply editorial writers on party newspapers, i.e., men who related themselves to literary artists in much the same way that Dr. Billy Sunday relates himself to the late Paul of Tarsus. What intrigued such gentlemen in the compositions of Dr. Wilson was the plain fact that he was their superior in their own special field—that he accomplished with a great deal more skill than they did themselves the great task of reducing all the difficulties of the hour to a few sonorous and unintelligible phrases, often with theological overtones--that he knew better than they did how to arrest and enchant the boobery with words that were simply words, and nothing else.”

Pity Mencken is no longer with us. He has no successor.
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