|George Lakoff dissects Obama’s moral vision in The Seven Intellectual Underpinnings of the Obama Code. It appeared in concert with Obama’s SOTU address, on several websites – you may have already seen it. If not, it’s a bit long but well worth reading. Some excerpts:|
…Obamaâ€™s second …move concerns what the fundamental American values are. In Moral Politics, I described what I found to be the implicit, often unconscious, value systems behind progressive and conservative thought. Progressive thought rests, first, on the value of empathyâ€”putting oneself in other peopleâ€™s shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, and therefore caring about them. The second principle is acting on that care, taking responsibility both for oneself and others, social as well as individual responsibility. The third is acting to make oneself, the country, and the world betterâ€”what Obama has called an “ethic of excellence” toward creating “a more perfect union” politically.
Historian Lynn Hunt, in Inventing Human Rights, has shown that those values, beginning with empathy, lie historically behind the human rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Obama, in various interviews and speeches, has provided the logical link. Empathy is not mere sympathy. Putting oneself in the shoes of others brings with it the responsibility to act on that empathyâ€”to be “our brotherâ€™s keeper and our sisterâ€™s keeper”â€”and to act to improve ourselves, our country, and the world.
The logic is simple: Empathy is why we have the values of freedom, fairness, and equality â€” for everyone, not just for certain individuals. If we put ourselves in the shoes of others, we will want them to be free and treated fairly. Empathy with all leads to equality: no one should be treated worse than anyone else. Empathy leads us to democracy: to avoid being subject indefinitely to the whims of an oppressive and unfair ruler, we need to be able to choose who governs us and we need a government of laws.
This is key:
Obama has consistently maintained that what I, in my writings, have called “progressive” values are fundamental American values. From his perspective, he is not a progressive; he is just an American.
That is a crucial intellectual move.
Those empathy-based moral values are the opposite of the conservative focus on individual responsibility without social responsibility. They make it intolerable to tolerate a president who is The Deciderâ€”who gets to decide without caring about or listening to anybody. Empathy-based values are opposed to the pure self-interest of a laissez-faire “free market,” which assumes that greed is good and that seeking self-interest will magically maximize everyoneâ€™s interests. They oppose a purely self-interested view of America in foreign policy. Obamaâ€™s foreign policy is empathy-based, concerned with people as well as statesâ€”with poverty, education, disease, water, the rights of women and children, ethnic cleansing, and so on around the world….
We talk all the time about how empathy is crucial distinction between left and right.
The third crucial idea behind the Obama Code is biconceptualism, the knowledge that a great many people who identify themselves ideologically as conservatives, or politically as Republicans or Independents, share those fundamental American valuesâ€”at least on certain issues. Most “conservatives” are not thoroughgoing movement conservatives, but are what I have called “partial progressives” sharing Obamaâ€™s American values on many issues. Where such folks agree with him on values, Obama tries, and will continue to try, to work with them on those issues if not others. And, he assumes, correctly I believe, that the more they come to think in terms of those American values, the less they will think in terms of opposing conservative values.
Biconceptualism lay behind his invitation to Rick Warren to speak at the inaugural. Warren is a biconceptual, like many younger evangelicals. He shares Obamaâ€™s views of the environment, poverty, health, and social responsibility, though he is otherwise a conservative. Biconceptualism is behind his “courting” of Republican members of Congress. The idea is not to accept conservative moral views, but to find those issues where individual Republicans already share what he sees as fundamentally American values…
Biconceptualism is central to Obamaâ€™s attempts to achieve unity â€”a unity based on his understanding of American values…
Finally, as a consequence of low empathy…
Conservatives tend to think in terms of direct causation. The overwhelming moral value of individual, not social, responsibility requires that causation be local and direct. For each individual to be entirely responsible for the consequences of his or her actions, those actions must be the direct causes of those consequences. If systemic causation is real, then the most fundamental of conservative moralâ€”and economicâ€”values is fallacious. Global ecology and global economics are prime examples of systemic causation. Global warming is fundamentally a system phenomenon. That is why the very idea threatens conservative thinking. And the global economic collapse is also systemic in nature. That is at the heart of the death of the conservative principle of the laissez-faire free market, where individual short-term self-interest was supposed to be natural, moral, and the best for everybody. The reality of systemic causation has left conservatism without any real ideas to address global warming and the global economic crisis…
I’ve often said that conservatives cannot see past the ends of their own noses. Read the whole thing.