The good news is that Obama campaigned on cooperation and won. The bad news is the same as the good. The Huckabee Moment demonstrates that evangelicals, even though they haven’t paid for it, still own the Republican Party. That makes me nervous. But let’s talk about Obama.
The conventional wisdom, which is probably correct, is that Democrats are more likely to favor cooperative solutions to problems, and cooperation itself as an ethical ideal, while Republicans come down on the side of authority and force. Of course, since a two-party electoral system pushes both parties toward the median voter, those tendencies are often muted in practice. During the past eight years, however, we have lived under a regime whose voting strength came from its base and not the uncommitted middle, and the ideology of force has flourished. Obama proposes the mirror opposite: enthusing the Democratic base under the banner of caring-and-sharing.
There is an aspect of this which is exactly what we need. For me, the political and economic world is, more than anything else, a vast array of collective action problems. From climate change to ending global poverty to human rights to public health, we have to find ways to work together for the common good. This applies even, and perhaps especially, to “national security”, which is really the security of ordinary people to live their lives without fear of being attacked by soldiers, private militias or suicide bombers. I would like to think that the big turnout for Obama reflects a widespread desire to build a more cooperative world.
The mistake, as Paul Krugman has been repeatedly arguing, is to think that we can get to cooperation by being cooperative. On this point Edwards is right: there are powerful interests, corporate and political, who will sabotage the cooperative impulse every step of the way. We have to fight tooth and nail for the right to care and share. Obama wants to lie down with the lions as an opening strategy, and he has signaled his desire to split the difference with the hard right on issues like health care and social security.
To be fair to the guy, his ability to run as a black man for president of a white-run country depends entirely on his being non-threatening. If he adopted even a smidgeon of Edwards’ rhetoric he would sink like a stone. This isn’t his fault; chalk it up to lingering racism. But that doesn’t change the political reality, which is that, to get the friendlier world the Obama voters thought they were voting for, we need the confrontational chutzpah that Edwards pushed.