True to His Word

By Kloppenberg, James T. | Newsweek, November 29, 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

True to His Word


Kloppenberg, James T., Newsweek


Byline: James T. Kloppenberg

Note to critics: Read (or reread) his books. Obama is doing just what he said he would do.

Every old-fashioned American amusement park had a fun house with mirrors that exaggerated your features. One mirror lengthened your legs, another widened your middle, a third made your face a wavy mask. If you stood in the right place, you vanished into endless distorting reflections. Nowadays, the political stage has become America's communal fun house, and nobody looks stranger than Barack Obama.

The president's critics on the right deride him as a radical socialist seething with anti-American rage. To them, he's a frightening success who has transformed the federal government, ruined the economy, and undermined national security. To the left, Obama is a tragic failure who squandered his chance for dramatic change: no single-payer health-care plan, no heated battle against Wall Street, and endless war in Afghanistan. If the president is struggling these days, the critics say, it's perhaps because he's out of touch with Americans, and even at odds with his own principles.

Yet Obama is doing exactly what he said he would do. Perhaps the critics should read--or reread--the president's own books. Dreams From My Father (1995) and The Audacity of Hope (2006) are the most substantial works written by anyone elected president since Woodrow Wilson (who wrote several books before he won election in 1912). In laying out his philosophy, Obama contrasts the GOP's excessive individualism with the ideal of "ordered liberty" and the rich traditions of civic engagement typical of America in the 18th and 19th centuries. He also criticizes orthodox Democrats for too quickly dismissing market solutions and too often defending failed government programs. Above all, he criticizes the hyperpartisan atmosphere of contemporary public life.

Almost everything you need to know about Obama is there on the printed page. In contrast to the charges coming now from right and left, Obama is neither a rigid ideologue nor a spineless wimp. The Obama who wrote Dreams and Audacity stands in a long tradition of American reform, wary of absolutes and universals, and committed to a Christian tradition that prizes humility and social service over dogmatic statements of unbending principle. A child of the philosophical pragmatists William James and John Dewey, Obama distrusts pat formulas and prefers experimentation.

Throughout his career, Obama has refused to demonize his opponents. Instead, he has sought them out and listened to them. He has tried to understand how they think and why they see the world as they do. His mother encouraged this sense of empathy, and it's a lesson Obama learned well. Since January 2009, Obama has watched his efforts at reconciliation, experimentation, and -consensus--building bounce off the hard surfaces of political self-interest and entrenched partisanship, but there is no reason to think he will abandon that strategy now.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

True to His Word
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?