Brilliant opening to Mark Lilla’s review of Charles Kesler’s new book on Barack Obama: “Once upon a time there was a radical president who tried to remake American society through government action. In his first term he created a vast network of federal grants to state and local governments for social programs that cost billions. He set up an imposing agency to regulate air and water emissions, and another to regulate workers’ health and safety. Had Congress not stood in his way he would have gone much further. He tried to establish a guaranteed minimum income for all working families and, to top it off, proposed a national health plan that would have provided government insurance for low-income families, required employers to cover all their workers and set standards for private insurance. Thankfully for the country, his second term was cut short and his collectivist dreams were never realized. His name was Richard Nixon.”
The rest of the review isn’t a bad read either, summing up conservatives’ fear and loathing of liberalism in the Obama mantle more wittily than I usually see it done by liberals, who tend to be more dour than necessary (the brooders Lilla calls “the crybabies at MSNBC and Harper’s Magazine”). Kestler is a professor at Claremont McKenna College, a temple of conservative ideology, where he also edits The Claremont Review of Books. Lilla demoloshes his book with praise: “A sense of proportion, once the conservative virtue, is considered treasonous on the right today, and Kesler cannot be accused of harboring one. But his systematic exaggerations demonstrate that the right’s rage against Obama, which has seeped out into the general public, has very little to do with anything the president has or hasn’t done. It’s really directed against the historical process they believe has made America what it is today. The conservative mind, a repository of fresh ideas just two decades ago, is now little more than a click-click slide projector holding a tray of apocalyptic images of modern life that keeps spinning around, raising the viewer’s fever with every rotation. If you want to experience what it’s like to be within that mind on a better day, then you need to visit I Am the Change.”
And if you don’t have time for 276 pages of the stuff (at my literacy-challenged 25-pages-an-hour reading rate, that works out to an investment of 11 hours, not counting the scream-in-the-pillow breaks), Lilla’s 2,800 words (a 15-minute read) should be plenty. Here. Treat yourself.