I wrote earlier and somewhat dismissively about Michael Gerson's analysis of the Obama inaugural address, but his column today is worth a read for its leading notion, that Barack Obama is a "conservative revolutionary."
Similarly, Obama's address diagnosed a time of "standing pat, of protecting narrow interests." And he rooted his vision of social and economic restoration in the renewal of moral virtues—courage, honesty, fair play, loyalty, tolerance, patriotism and duty. He insisted on using the word "virtue" and explained that such convictions are not merely useful but "true."
This shows a deep understanding of America, which remains moral to its core—and a mature understanding of American leadership. Obama's argument should appeal to many conservatives, who would never accept a case for progressive policies based on relativistic or libertarian moral views. Like Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr., Obama positioned himself as a conservative revolutionary—attempting to re-create our country by reasserting the traditional moral principles that gave it birth.
This type of insight makes President Obama a formidable political figure—and if he really believes and defends these ideals, perhaps a formidable American leader.
Gerson makes a good point here, though I disagree with the notion that convictions of courage, honesty, fair play, etc., are somehow conservative (and are thus implicitly neither liberal nor progressive). As I wrote Tuesday (and as Gerson noted in his appearance at Brookings today), the theme of returning America to greatness by re-embracing its basic values is a classic.
That said, the point about invoking traditional values to assert revolutionary ideas is an interesting one and one that progressives should keep in mind (and have done in some ways for years).