Barack Obama and the Limits of Prudence

Thomas Meaney and Stephen Wertheim in Dissent:

Obama If you have waited to see Barack Obama lose his cool, your moment has come. After the president finished giving the interview published in the October 15 issue of Rolling Stone, he charged back into the room to deliver a parting salvo. Stabbing at the air, Obama berated Democrats for “sitting on their hands complaining.” He even questioned their motives. “If people now want to take their ball and go home,” he said, “that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.”

How has it come to this—the president publicly doubting the motives of his own political base? Consider the grievance that stoked his anger: that progressives are unwilling to make the compromises necessary to achieve anything. Obama mocked the Left’s attitude toward health care reform: “Well, gosh, we’ve got this historic health care legislation that we’ve been trying to get for 100 years, but it didn’t have every bell and whistle that we wanted right now, so let’s focus on what we didn’t get instead of what we got.”

Saying this aloud may not help Obama. But his point is revealing. Obama and America are disenchanted today less because they have different values within the American political spectrum than because they have different orientations toward politics as a whole. More than any American president within memory, Barack Obama embodies the “ethic of responsibility” identified by the sociologist Max Weber in his lecture Politics as a Vocation. Obama weighs possible consequences carefully and tries to produce the best result. This comes in contrast to the “ethic of ultimate ends” favored by large swaths of the American public.

More here.