Barack Obama

Obama's Culture Wars

What happened to Obama's promise to make America less divisive?


One of the sad legacies of President Obama, who rose to prominence on the basis of a 2004 speech announcing, "there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America," is that American political polarization has spread to the newly partisan battleground known as basketweaving.

That's one sad takeaway from the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The Obama administration tried to force the Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores owned by a Christian family, to obey Affordable Care Act regulations requiring employee health insurance to pay for birth control. The Hobby Lobby said it had a religious objection, and the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 majority, ruled in its favor.

Cue the Twitter reaction from the left: "There are other places to buy yarn, I assure you."

Polarization in the press has long been a concern among foundation types who fret about the right getting its news from Fox and Rush Limbaugh while the left listens to NPR and Jon Stewart. In investing, conservatives are stocking up on gold coins while the left saves in "sustainable and responsible" funds that avoid oil companies. Speaking of oil, the left drives Toyota Priuses—so much so that a Barack Obama bumper sticker on one is practically redundant—while the right drives pickup trucks with gun racks.

Meanwhile, President Obama, in his role as brand-endorser in chief, stops in at Costco or Starbucks or the Gap or Chipotle to signal his support of their labor policies, or their executives' campaign contributions, or whatever. Congressional Republicans cater their lunches from Chick-fil-A to back that company's stance in favor of "traditional marriage." And the Democrat-dominated New York City Council adopts the stance that not only should Walmart not open in New York City, but that New York-based institutions should refuse charitable grants from Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation.

I'm all for politics and for strongly held beliefs, but whatever happened to deciding what chicken sandwich to eat for lunch or where to shop for yarn based on old-fashioned criteria such as price, selection, taste, and quality, rather than where the company stands in the culture war?

I cringe when I see politics seeping into basic consumer decisionmaking for the same reason I appreciated Obama's 2004 DNC keynote speech. It seems a sign of bitter disunity, a kind of "house divided against itself," in Lincoln's phrase echoing the Christian Bible.

The flip side of bitter disunity, though, is individual choice and diversity. Allowing individual consumers to choose what companies they want to patronize may have its drawbacks in terms of eroding our common, shared American culture, but as a way of handling disagreements, it's far better than the alternative of mandated uniformity from Washington. I'd much rather have an America where some families choose to shop at Walmart and others choose to shop at Costco than an America where Congress, or President Obama, dictates that Costco and Walmart pay exactly the same wages and offer exactly the same health insurance benefits to employees.

With choice, as opposed to national legislation, firms can experiment with what works best for them, and customers can benefit from the variety, options, and competition. One reason Obamacare is such a bad law is that it deprives employers of the chance to design their own health care benefits, instead imposing uniform requirements of the sort that the Hobby Lobby's owners successfully resisted. The administration has granted waivers, some to politically favored groups such as labor unions, but those are exceptions. Another reason ObamaCare is such a bad law is that it preserves the tax incentives for people to have their health insurance provided by employers rather than buying it themselves, leaving employees' personal health decisions subject to the decisions of employers whose religious beliefs may differ from their own.

Deep cultural or religious divides turn out to be an area where markets and choice can handle disputes better than government regulations can. It's something to think about the next time you go shopping for yarn or a chicken sandwich.

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  1. What happened, to the Obama who promised to make America less divisive?

    He was reading a teleprompter. Whoever typed that into the teleprompter was full of shit. Next question.

    1. What happened, to the Obama who promised to make America less divisive?

      What difference, at this point, does it make?

    2. ‘Go fuck yourself San Diego.’

    3. Campaign verbal fodder, a cup o’ feel good for the unsophisticated masses.

  2. Dude sometimes man you jsut have to rol lwith it.

  3. What happened, asks Ira Stoll, to the Obama who promised to make America less divisive?

    He never existed anywhere outside a campaign rally, and anyone who fell for it was indulging their own ignorance.

    1. So Nick Gillespie?

      1. Yes.

  4. What happened, to the Obama who promised to make America less divisive?


  5. What happened, to the Obama who promised to make America less divisive?

    He evolved.

  6. “The Supreme Court has prevented the federal bureaucracy from issuing a regulation that conflicts with a law passed by Congress and with the First Amendment. Won’t you donate today to help end this injustice?”

  7. He lied, people died!

  8. “What happened to Obama’s promise to make America less divisive?”

    He fully intended it, and wanted to implement it by surprising all dissent. Fortunately he is as competent as he is moderate.

    1. suppressing

      Gods, but I hate technology with an opinion.

  9. Yes, Obama has made the culture wars far worse.

    I see Obama as a white, underhand tossing but smart nerd (the white half) that is a Harvard Law Magna cum laude.

    The right (and Peanuts) sees him as a Kenyan-born angry radical Black Panther.

    One of us is full of shit.

    1. underhand tossing but smart nerd

      If he were a smart nerd, he’d understand simple things like market incentives.

      1. Where is this alleged Obama smartness?

        1. Everywhere. We are told by supporters, that Obama works in mysterious ways. Ways so mysterious that…

        2. He was smart enough to know to stay out of Iraq unlike your TEAM RED fuck-ups.

          1. He was smart enough to know to stay out of Iraq

            You mean, like this?


          2. Man, the timing on this one SUCKED. You really need to check the headlines before you start bragging about your boy’s pacifism.

            1. He is only 8% committed to Iraq.

          3. I’m not sure what you mean by “YOUR”. This is a libertarian site, not a Republican one.

            Still, I thought Dumbo would set the standard for presidential incompetence for a long time, but it looks like Obama is actually beating him.

      2. The right (and Peanuts) sees him as a Kenyan-born angry radical Black Panther.

        Who in Peanuts sees him as a Black Panther? Charlie Brown?

    2. Palin’s Buttplug|6.30.14 @ 5:06PM|#
      “I lick Obo ass”

    3. underhand tossing but smart nerd (the white half)

      So the white half is the smart half? You certainly are racist.

      1. Nerd half. Nice try though.

        (nerds are almost exclusively white)

        1. Still racist.

          1. Extremely fucking racist, actually.

        2. A quick glance around my coworking space reveals a profoundly different reality.

          Starting with the Indian guy with Batman posters 3 desks over (NTTAWWT).

          I wouldn’t be surprised if your impression of nerds’ ethnic make up is purely based off of popular culture depictions.

        3. (nerds are almost exclusively white)

          Yeah, okay.

          You’re a disgusting racist. When combined with the fact that your go to insult is to call people gay, this makes me think you’re a pretty vile human being.

          1. It’s not human. It was human once, but the ruins of its mind is degraded to the point that it no longer is sentient.

            It lacks the capacity to comprehend anything being discussed here. Rather its neural net just generates comments that evoke a big response.

        4. Not true. As a proud nerd, I have worked with fellow nerds from around the world sporting skin of various shades.

        5. Wow, what a piece of shit. Thanks for confirming that Progressivism is rooted in the most hateful varieties of spite, contempt and condescension.

        6. Self awareness fail.

        7. First as a nerd I find your assumption both insulting and racist.
          Second, I would say Obama’s problem is that he has never questioned the orthodoxy that has been put before him in academia. I, and I assume most of us, who count ourselves libertarian have only gotten here through constantly questioning the ideas that we were raised with and exposed to in school and media. Obama gives the impression he thinks that none who taught him in college were not divine beings infused with perfect knowledge, and he treats those of us whom disagree with his orthodoxy as heretics.

    4. “One of us is full of shit.”

      Both of you are full of shit.

    5. Show us his college transcripts, Weigel. Or are they with the IRS emails?

      1. When one is Magna cum laude you don’t need a fucking transcript.

        If you had gone to school you would know that.

        1. He was in the top of his law school class. And got those grades under an anonymous grading system.

          He’s smart enough, in a bookish way, for academia.

          That’s a very long way from being smart about governance, human nature, history, or any of the other things a President should be smart about.

          1. How do you know that he was “in the top of his law school class”?

            Let’s see the transcripts.

            Let’s see the minutes from the admissions department.

            Let’s see the essays he allegedly penned in connection with his application for admission.

            Well, let’s see.

            1. How about the ability to arrange subject with predicate and object, sans teleprompter?

              He is not what I would characterize as a model of mellifluosness.

            2. How do you know that he was “in the top of his law school class”?

              Umm, his law school says so?

              1. …no they didn’t.

          2. He’s smart enough, in a bookish way, for academia.

            This is actually an astonishingly (or at least ironically) low standard. Academia tends to reward low cunning, ass-kissing, and a dedication to giving no more than 50% of an effort at any point in time.

    6. I thought the white half was his evil imperialistic half that hates womens and gays?

    7. I see Obama as a …derp …derp …derp….Harvard Law Magna cum laude.

      citation needed

      I thought one of his supporters paid millions of dollars to have Obama’s public records sealed in order to hide his past.

      How did this gem slip through ?

      1. I’d be more interested in undergrad grades.

        I’m going to guess Harvard is like Stanford: once you’re in, you can’t really fail.

    8. “I see Obama as a white, underhand tossing but smart nerd (the white half) that is a Harvard Law Magna cum laude.”

      That’s an extremely racist thing to say, you’re despicable.

      However it does still tickles me that the progressive troll can’t even tell he is a racist. It’s like that Chapell skit where the black blind man was the leader of a klan outfit.

  10. Anymore, there is always “someone” trying to tell you what you should do!

    Good article! Amen, to the last paragraph!

  11. I hate Obammy and all his followers. I want to vomit into their mouths

    1. Have you no respect even for your own vomit?

      1. Ahhhh…. Good Point!

  12. What happened to the Obama who promised to make America less divisive?

    He lives, through the magic of videotape.

  13. Deep cultural or religious divides turn out to be an area where markets and choice can handle disputes better than government regulations can.

    Where on the market-regulation spectrum do fatwas and war fall?

    1. That’s how you can tell there was a market failure.

      Next question: What made the market fail?

      1. Obviously, the markets were too free and made themselves fail. It took a village of governments to build the bridges and businesses, so obviously literacy led to slavery and globalization kills polar bears.

        Also – oil has no heart, humans do. Remember to buy fair trade organic alpaca.

  14. Sure, sure, markets and peace and all that.

    But we’re not addressing the main issue here: how can I afford to pay for something if I’m not forcing someone else to pay for it?

      1. Uh, I have a job. It’s being a citizen of the world, protesting the oligarchy of private property and its oppression on the working class.

        Which has to pay for my political protests, sure, but it’s in their best interests.

        1. Don’t worry, the poor of America will still get their free contraception. It’s only the voluntarily employed folks of HL (who get a paycheck) who might have to decide if they wish to use the morning-after pill on their own dime.

          1. But they won’t use it if they’re not allowed! It’s been banned! How will people get things if others don’t pay for them?? Kapitalism is so outdated it’s like the slavery market!

            (Hmm – is that a fairly convincing prog voice?)

            1. It was alright… Just a little tip though: try to throw in something about income inequality.

  15. “What happened to Obama’s promise to make America less divisive?”

    He was never meant it, obviously. He said what he had to say in order to appear more electable.

    Are we seriously asking this question at this point?

  16. Photo: I just KNEW he was a lefty!

  17. Obama is a unifying figure, it’s his *opponents* who insist on promoting divisiveness. They keep saying “no” to Obama’s plans to Help All of Us, because they hate black people are they’re terrorists.

    I can’t stand the thought of how divisive and polarizing those TeathugliKKKan terroristic nihilistic racist homophobic women-hating bastards are!

    1. Yes, he is a unifying figure. He’s polling in the low 40s, which means that a majority of Americans disapprove of him. Mathematically, some of those folks have to be people who voted for him.

  18. As we say here in Northern Minnesota, Obama’s promises aren’t written on paper but pissed in the snow.

  19. Not really related to the topic of the article, but I just find it interesting that in my town, the Chick-fi-La is right in front of the Hobby Lobby. (The Wal-Mart is a couple of blocks away.)

  20. It is astonishing to me that anyone still cites any of Obama’s campaign pronouncements as if they were ever intended honestly, or were anything more than a calculated statement for the entire purpose of getting votes, regardless of truth or reality.

    Rather than “Garsh, whatever happened to X?”, which gives credit where none is due, a better opening is “Can you believe people were stupid enough to believe Obama when he said X?”

    1. I think the first time around, Obama was simply the lesser of two evils. Why people voted for him again, I can’t figure out though.

      1. Because his opponent kept binders full of womyn and ne never paid taxes on the people he gave cancer to.

  21. The people who say they aren’t shopping at a store because of the owner’s political views never shopped there to begin with.

  22. I choose AK-47 over AR-15. How divisive is that?

  23. I wasn’t around then, so can someone name names and list the Reason writers who bought what Obama’s teleprompter was selling?

  24. Is there actually a single major campaign promise Obama has fulfilled?

  25. Its awesome.. Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $100 a day. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out

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