Obama's Popularity Growing Among Conservatives

Sunday, 22 Jun 2008 10:30 PM

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They're called the Obamacons -- the conservative thinkers who are disgusted with the Republicans and are rallying to Democrat Barack Obama as the nation's economic and diplomatic savior.

They are joining younger evangelical leaders who see more to their religious mission than slavish devotion to Republican social mores, and fiscal conservatives who reject the war-fueled spending of President George W. Bush.

"The Bush coalition is dissolving," pollster John Zogby told AFP.

"We have polling showing one-fifth of conservatives supporting Obama," he said.

It seems an unlikely alliance, as some of the star intellectual names who have long given philosophical sustenance to Republican rule clamber aboard Obama's bid for the White House.

But thinkers such as Francis Fukuyama, Andrew Sullivan and Andrew Bacevich -- all vehemently opposed to the war in Iraq -- dislike Republican candidate John McCain and see something alluring in his Democratic rival.

Fukuyama, the conservative author of the post-Cold War treatise "The End of History and the Last Man," said on a visit to Sydney last month that the Republicans were a spent force intellectually.

He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that many on the right of US politics believe "Obama probably has the greatest promise of delivering a different kind of politics" that breaks with decades of Republican orthodoxy.

Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, believes that after eight years under Bush, the Republicans need to lose November's election to reinvent their thinking and policy platform.

"For conservatives, Obama represents a sliver of hope. McCain represents none at all. The choice turns out to be an easy one," he wrote in The American Conservative magazine.

Among conservative critics, there is often a strong streak of libertarianism that is offended by Bush's war in Iraq, his curbing of constitutional freedoms in the "war on terror" and his swollen budget deficits.

In some cases they are "neoconservatives" who started out as liberals, drifted away from the Democratic Party in search of a more muscular foreign policy, and are now deserting the Republicans in turn.

Specific critics go further in actually endorsing Obama, the first African-American nominee of a major US party whose message of change resonates with thinkers who swim in the shifting currents of history and politics.

Through publications such as National Review, the house organ of Republican seers, conservatives claim to have had the ascendancy of ideas for decades -- a point Obama has acknowledged through his praise of president Ronald Reagan.

But if that tide of ideas is ebbing, that suggests trouble for McCain at a time when the Arizonan is already battling to shore up backing from Republicans mistrustful of his maverick Senate record.

Obama is meanwhile reaching deep into the Republicans' evangelical base, arguing that concern for social justice and environmental stewardship should count as much as fulmination about abortion, gay marriage and gun rights.

"The old mantra of 'guns, God and gonads' just doesn't exclusively define younger Christian conservatives. It's not that they're turning liberal, but they're multi-dimensional," Zogby said.

"John McCain has a bigger opening than I think he realizes, of putting together a different kind of coalition. Right now, he's not doing it. He's playing '90s politics."

Sullivan, who is an atypical high priest of US conservatism in that he is British, gay and Catholic, would welcome that kind of bipartisan coalition -- but sees it coming from Obama rather than the Republicans.

The Illinois senator would end not just the war in Iraq but the war of ideology, Sullivan argued way back in December, before Obama's candidacy truly caught fire with his victory in the Iowa caucuses.

"It is a war about war -- and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama -- and Obama alone -- offers the possibility of a truce," he wrote in The Atlantic.

© 1994-2008 Agence France-Presse

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