Values Voters Prevail Again
But they were Obama’s values and his voters.
A study by the Wesleyan Media Project last week found that the Obama campaign was the most negative campaign ever. With 59 percent of its ads negative, it outstripped even the notorious George W. Bush reelection campaign (55 percent) of 2004. Romney hardly knew what hit him. He liked to describe his experience running companies as relevant to running a country. This is a misunderstanding he shared with Europeans, and with those of Obama’s
supporters who have called for an end to all this values talk.
A modern, diverse democratic republic is something very different from a company. It relies for cohesion on shared narratives passionately believed in, even if they are
passionately believed in only for a few weeks around election time. Run it as a business and it will fall to pieces. Obama has made a lot of mistakes, but running the country as a business is not one of them. Like Bush before him, he is always stressing how America is the only place where membership in the nation derives not from race, ethnicity, or religion but from belief in an idea.
The bright side of that vision is a beautiful thing, but there is a dark side to it, too. If America is an idea, you can belong to it regardless of your ethnic background. But you cannot belong to it regardless of your beliefs. A tendency to lecture the American public on what they are supposed to believe has become a constant in the president’s oratory. “That’s who we are,” he said in his victory speech on Tuesday. He was talking about the need to help an 8-year-old girl with leukemia, a fairly uncontroversial proposition. But he uses this trope even when talking about the tiniest velleities, usually expanding it to “that’s not who we are as a people.” If there is one disturbing truth that Obama has always understood, it is that a winning American campaign is always about values, is never lukewarm, and is generally a bit scary-looking to foreigners and losers.
Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.