Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 12:28 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 12:28 | SYDNEY

100 days: Obama the non-ideologue


Sam Roggeveen


29 April 2009 12:46

An anonymous Obama adviser has described the President as 'a devout non-ideologue.' That's a fascinating formulation, and preferable to calling him a 'pragmatist'. The latter phrase carries an implication that there is some neutral, technocratic way that policy can be made and implemented if only political beliefs can be removed from the equation.

'Non-ideologue' is preferable because it allows for the possibility that Obama does hold certain deeply held beliefs on which he acts. What it rules out, however, is that these beliefs can be categorised as an 'ideology'.

An ideology is merely a crude abridgment of something much more complex and precious: a political tradition. Political traditions, like traditions of all kinds, are a type of contract between the living, the dead and those yet to be born. They imply continuity but they are contingent and subject  to gradual change. An ideology, by contrast, proposes a single, universal and timeless answer to the problem of governing.

Obama clearly belongs to a political tradition, and it is one that has more friends on the left than on the right. What should comfort those on the right is that, consistent with his aversion to ideology, he seems not to be subject to fantasies that either government or the free market can somehow be perfected. Each are imperfect human institutions, and the balance between them sometimes has to shift in order for the country to muddle through.