Archive for March 2011

Quote of the Day: Adam Smith Profiles Barack Obama

March 1, 2011

Reading Nicholas Phillipson’s admirable new(ish) biography of Adam Smith walking to my office this morning, I came across a passage from The Theory of Moral Sentiments that seems to me to capture Obama’s style and theory of governance remarkably well:

When he cannot conquer the rooted prejudices of the people by reason and persuasion …(h)e will accommodate, as well as he can, his public arrangements to the confirmed habits and prejudices of the people; and will remedy as well as he can, the”inconveniencies” which may flow from the want of those regulations which the people are averse to submit to. When he cannot establish the right, he will not disdain to ameliorate the wrong; but like Solon, when he cannot establish the best system of laws, he will endeavour to establish the best that the people can bear.

(The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part VI, Section II, Chapter II, paragraph 41.*)

All this in the context of the discussion to the post immediatelly preceding this one, in which I note Obama’s quiet reversal of one of the Bush administration’s most archtypal illiberal and disempowering attacks on the autonomy of women (and others):  putting an end to the expansive “conscience” (sic) exception that allowed pharmacists and medical professionals to deny reproductive and other services as they chose.

My suggestion that this kind of action helps make clear the distinction between Democrats and Republicans, Obama and Bush — and hence the urgency of the next election — evoked a few sharply argued claims in the comment thread over at the post’s Balloon Juice incarnation that this was mere cosmetics, a little lipstick on the pig that has perpetuated the Bush line in all its essentials.

In that context, Smith’s description of the virtuous leader struck me as remarkably apt:  this seems very much like a capsule portrait of Obama, here captured in the very sharp sight of a thinker whose work is more an inquiry into sociability taken all in all — how humans contrive to live together — than it is, as usually mischaracterized, merely that part of it which is concerned with the economics of such co-existence.

That such an approach may fail — or at least fall well short of producing not merely a somewhat better society, but a good one — is obvious.  But consider the recent alternatives.

Top of the morning to y’all.

*That link takes you direct to an HTML version of Moral Sentiments. For rapid access to a broad Adam Smith archive, the Liberty Forum — broadly part of the Wingnut archipelago —  performs an undeniable service by posting the entire Glasgow Edition of Adam Smiths Works and Correspondence, which was previously available at considerable expense from Oxford University Press.  Browse at will.

Image:  Dosso Dossi, Jupiter, Mercury, and Virtue, ~1520-1530

No, Really. Democrats are Just Republicans in Cheap Suits.

March 1, 2011

The Obama Administration can play it cool when it wants to.

Via Feministing by way of TPM, we learn that the forced birth/hate teh gayz crowd took one on the chin last week, and, despite all efforts to the contrary, women (and gays, and transexuals, and just about anyone who thinks it’s none of anyone else’s damn business what we and our doctors decide works for us) regained just a smidgeon of that autonomy the American Inquisition the modern GOP seeks to steal from us.

Which is to say that AFAIK, this slipped past just about every radar screen:

After two years of struggling to balance the rights of patients against the beliefs of health-care workers, the Obama administration on Friday finally rescinded most of a federal regulation designed to protect those who refuse to provide care they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds.

The decision guts one of President George W. Bush’s most controversial legacies: a rule that was widely interpreted as shielding workers who refuse to participate in a range of medical services, such as providing birth control pills, caring for gay men with AIDS and performing in-vitro fertilization for lesbians or single women.

Friday’s move was seen as an important step in countering that trend, which in recent years had led pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for the emergency contraceptive Plan B, doctors in California to reject a lesbian’s request for infertility treatment, and an ambulance driver in Chicago to turn away a woman who needed transportation for an abortion.

Can I hear an Amen?

But yeah, Obama is just Bush with a better jump shot.

(Not to mention that this is just one more reminder of why, in fact, it does matter who wins next time round.  Just sayin.)

Image: Octave Tassaert The Waif aka L’abandonnée, 1852.