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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obamacons Exodus Holds Lesson for Dems

The Economist has a heart-warming (for Dems) cartoon depicting elephants bailing out of a sinking GOP ship and swimming toward a ship bearing an “Obama ’08” campaign flag, as pleasantly surprised donkeys watch them scramble on board. The accompanying article, “The Rise of the Obamacons,” notes:

The biggest brigade in the Obamacon army consists of libertarians, furious with Mr Bush’s big-government conservatism, worried about his commitment to an open-ended “war on terror”, and disgusted by his cavalier way with civil rights. There are two competing “libertarians for Obama” web sites. CaféPress is even offering a “libertarian for Obama” lawn sign for $19.95. Larry Hunter, who helped to devise Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America in 1994, thinks that Mr Obama can free America from the grip of the “zombies” who now run the Republican Party.

The Economist article goes on to cite a recent WaPo/ABC News poll indicating Obama is winning 22 percent of self-described conservatives, “a higher proportion than any Democratic nominee since 1980” and calls the roll of the more recent conservative intellectuals endorsing Obama, including General Powell, Francis Fukuyama, Christopher Buckley, Douglas Kmiec and Kenneth Adelman. (See Ed Kilgore’s Oct. 14 TDS post on the Buckley endorsement of Obama for a longer list)
The Economist article also does a good job of probing the “why” of the exodus of conservative intellectuals:

For many conservatives, Mr Obama embodies qualities that their party has abandoned: pragmatism, competence and respect for the head rather than the heart. Mr Obama’s calm and collected response to the turmoil on Wall Street contrasted sharply with Mr McCain’s grandstanding.
Much of Mr Obama’s rhetoric is strikingly conservative, even Reaganesque. He preaches the virtues of personal responsibility and family values, and practises them too. He talks in uplifting terms about the promise of American life. His story also appeals to conservatives: it holds the possibility of freeing America from its racial demons, proving that the country is a race-blind meritocracy…

I doubt that the smarter conservatives believe an Obama presidency will “free America from its racial demons,” but I do believe that they like the fact that Senator and Mrs. Obama achieved so much without affirmative action.
But the larger lesson of the ‘Obamacons’ may be that temperament and style of leadership can trump policy. Many of these same conservatives believe that Obama is one of the more liberal members of the Senate. But they like his prudence and deliberate manner of decision-making. True conservatives also respect competence, and it’s not hard to imagine them wincing painfully at the McCain campaign’s blunder of the day. The McCain campaign’s Keystone Kops routine has made it embrarrassing for many conservatives to wear his campaign button, while Obama continues to make impressive gains on a daily basis.
There is a lesson here for Democrats, that it is possible to win the support of thinking conservatives without compromising unduly on progressive reforms. Yes, it helps a lot to have blundering adversaries, but dems would do well to remember the conservative exodus of ’08 and the way Obama handled himself to help make it happen.

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