Sullivan does more than make the moderate conservative case for Obama; he claims that only Obama can end the culture wars of post-Vietnam United States. (That these are strange times for the Republican Party can be seen by Sullivan's decision to back Ron Paul for the nomination).
I was particularly struck by this claim that the generational divide between the candidates explains why Obama is less defensive than Clinton about progressive values.
A generational divide also separates Clinton and Obama with respect to domestic politics. Clinton grew up saturated in the conflict that still defines American politics. As a liberal, she has spent years in a defensive crouch against triumphant post-Reagan conservatism. The mau-mauing that greeted her health-care plan and the endless nightmares of her husband’s scandals drove her deeper into her political bunker. Her liberalism is warped by what you might call a Political Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Reagan spooked people on the left, especially those, like Clinton, who were interested primarily in winning power. She has internalized what most Democrats of her generation have internalized: They suspect that the majority is not with them, and so some quotient of discretion, fear, or plain deception is required if they are to advance their objectives. And so the less-adept ones seem deceptive, and the more-practiced ones, like Clinton, exhibit the plastic-ness and inauthenticity that still plague her candidacy. She’s hiding her true feelings. We know it, she knows we know it, and there is no way out of it.
Obama, simply by virtue of when he was born, is free of this defensiveness. Strictly speaking, he is at the tail end of the Boomer generation. But he is not of it.
This is a contrast between the tactical politics of triangulation, and what Sullivan takes to be Obama's instinctive and principled moderation. (Closer tom home, Sullivan's critique of Hillary Clinton chimes strongly with the lack of confidence being shown by the Brown government here in the UK. The scars of Labour's 1992 defeat still run deep: both Blair and Brown have feared that Britain remains an essentially conservative country).
Sullivan's neatly argued conclusion captures why it is so difficult to work out where voters will decide the greater risk lies, with Hillary still favourite but the momentum having been very much with Obama this past week.
The paradox is that Hillary makes far more sense if you believe that times are actually pretty good. If you believe that America’s current crisis is not a deep one, if you think that pragmatism alone will be enough to navigate a world on the verge of even more religious warfare, if you believe that today’s ideological polarization is not dangerous, and that what appears dark today is an illusion fostered by the lingering trauma of the Bush presidency, then the argument for Obama is not that strong. Clinton will do. And a Clinton-Giuliani race could be as invigorating as it is utterly predictable.
But if you sense, as I do, that greater danger lies ahead, and that our divisions and recent history have combined to make the American polity and constitutional order increasingly vulnerable, then the calculus of risk changes. Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution. Close-up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary.