Krauthammer on Obama: “A first-class intellect, and a first-class temperament”

My early and enthusiastic support for Barack Obama reflected two beliefs, linked but distinguishable:

1. As a rather unreconstructed liberal, I believed that his combination of liberal principles and conservative operating style offer the best hope for making major progressive change. (Think of it as a variation on “Tory men and Whig measures.”) I believed also that his combination of brilliance and sanity make him, of all the politicians of my lifetime, the one most capable of amassing great power, using it to good ends, and not abusing it.

2. As someone who wanted to see a Democrat elected President this year, I believed that his comfort with high-voltage Protestantism and flyover-state culture, his lack of a nasty edge, his willingness to understand and acknowledge conservative viewpoints, and his brilliance and sanity would make him attractive to some voters and some opinion leaders for whom his liberalism is a bug rather than a feature.

The Rev. Mr. Wright certainly put a major hole in Obama’s cultural Red-state compatibility. But I still think he will get some votes this year that another Democrat might not have gotten, and will have more capacity as President to attract cooperation from Republicans than another Democrat might have had.

George Will’s praise of Obama (and aggressive dispraise of his opponent) offers some support for this thesis, but Will’s defection from the GOP is not unprecedented: he more or less endorsed Bill Clinton in 1992, and I suppose he might have endorsed Hillary Clinton this year, given McCain as the alternative. (Though note that with HRC as his opponent, McCain would have had fanatical support from the GOP base as a given, and wouldn’t have had to disgrace himself in the process of trying to demonize his opponent.)

But even I wouldn’t have dared to imagine the latest column from Charles Krauthammer, who ranks fairly high on my list of unclean beasts and who has never, to my knowledge, said a kind word about a Democratic Presidential candidate. He doesn’t precisely endorse Obama, but he predicts an Obama victory:

Part of reassurance is intellectual. Like Palin, he’s a rookie, but in his 19 months on the national stage he has achieved fluency in areas in which he has no experience. In the foreign policy debate with McCain, as in his July news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Obama held his own — fluid, familiar, and therefore plausibly presidential.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously said of Franklin Roosevelt that he had a “second-class intellect, but a first-class temperament.” Obama has shown that he is a man of limited experience, questionable convictions, deeply troubling associations (Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, Tony Rezko) and an alarming lack of self-definition — do you really know who he is and what he believes? Nonetheless, he’s got both a first-class intellect and a first-class temperament. That will likely be enough to make him president.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: