Thursday, October 28, 2010

Obama, The Philosopher President? (Updated)

The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, and to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead.
Obama, Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on the End of Combat Operations in Iraq, August 31, 2010

Go ahead, take another look at that deceptively simple sentence and try to delve into its hidden depths.

Had enough?

According to Harvard historian James T. Kloppenberg, author of the new book Reading Obama:
That single sentence encapsulates Obama’s commitments to deliberative democracy and pragmatism, the signature features of the approach to American history and politics he adopts in his writings and his speeches.
Who knew?

According to The New York Times, Kloppenberg believes that Obama is 'a true intellectual' and 'a kind of philosopher president, a rare breed that can be found only a handful of times in American history'.

How rare?
“There’s John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Quincy Adams, then Abraham Lincoln and in the 20th century just Woodrow Wilson,”
While Kloppenberg just rattles off names, Soccer Dad took a closer look at one of them--Woodrow Wilson. In Plato Obama, he quotes from Jonah Goldberg who gives some background on Wilson::
Wilson was the first president to openly deride the Constitution, mocking the "Fourth of July sentiments" of those who cared too much about its meaning...Wilson demonized immigrants and "hyphenated Americans" with a venom unimaginable today. "I cannot say too often -- any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this republic," Wilson said in 1919.
We should be thankful the the rarity of such a breed.

Rick Richman, noting that We Are All Philosophical Pragmatists Now, provides an excerpt from Kloppenberg's book:
Obama is drawn toward the ideas of anti-foundationalism, historicism, and philosophical pragmatism. As an anti-foundationalist, he questions the existence of universal truths. As a historicist, he doubts that any ideas transcend the particularity of time and culture. Finally, as a philosophical pragmatist he insists that all propositions, positions, and policies must be subjected to continuing critical scrutiny. … He believes that anti-foundationalism, historicism, and philosophical pragmatism are consistent with the principles of civic republicanism and deliberative democracy on which America was built and for which it should stand.
While one can admire Kloppenberg's vocabulary, one can also wonder why he had to say the same thing three times instead of just coming right out and saying that Obama is a liberal.

You know, sometimes a liberal is just...a liberal.

UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg weighs in:
There's much to chuckle at. But I like the simplicity of this:
Pragmatism maintains that people are constantly devising and updating ideas to navigate the world in which they live; it embraces open-minded experimentation and continuing debate. “It is a philosophy for skeptics, not true believers,” Mr. Kloppenberg said.
Ah yes. Barack Obama has been so supple-minded, so open to "continuing debate" so skeptical of certainty and so humble.

I just wonder where that Barack Obama has been for the last 20-odd months, because the guy in the Oval Office has been talking endlessly about how the "time for debate is over," how he doesn't want to hear from his opponents, whom he now calls "our enemies," how he got all of his policies right, how any statement of disagreement is merely a "talking point," or perhaps the irritable mental gesture of Americans who are so frightened they cling to their boomsticks and sky god, or simply reject "facts and science."
Oh, that Obama.

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