Morning Jay: Senate Outlook, The Philosopher King, Steele Watch, and More!
6:30 AM, Oct 28, 2010 • By JAY COST
2. The Philosopher King. Well, this is a rarity. Check out this article from the New York Times previewing a new book by Harvard historian James Kloppenberg. The title? Reading Obama: Dreams, Hopes, and the American Political Tradition. It’s the kind of hagiographical treatment that President Obama just doesn’t receive very much these days. Fortunately, Kloppenberg lays it on real heavy:
Obama's pragmatism is now a philosophical virtue? What it seems to me that Obama is being praised for is his willingness to cut deals and get half a loaf.
Isn’t every president like this to some extent? Did liberal academics praise George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s when he cut his budget deal with the Democrats, even though he violated his "no new taxes" pledge? Did they see that as a sign that he was "updating ideas to navigate the world in which (he) live(s)?" Heck no! They just laughed along with Ann Richards as she pitied, “Poor George. He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth!”
I think there is a real tendency in some quarters to elevate the "profane" qualities about Obama into sacred traits. His deal-cutting and flip-floppery are not signs of a politician looking to maximize his chances of election. They are instead reminiscient of “William James, John Dewey and Charles Sanders Peirce!”
One of the first proponents of this view of looking at Obama was…Obama himself! Check out this passage from the Audacity of Hope:
Long (and turgid) story short, Obama takes the offending passage down from his site. We are to believe that the reason why is because he has learned some important lesson about respecting the opinions of others and the presumption of good faith.
But isn’t this just the normal tacking to the center that all politicians do? And isn’t the ultimate motivation here just to get votes? Of course it is! He had some hardcore pro-choice language on his website (although he blamed a staffer!) to appeal to the Democrats in the primary. Then after the primary he took it down. Every politician does that, and when 99.9 percent of them do, we roll our eyes and call it pandering. But when Obama did it? Well, it was “extend(ing) the presumption of good faith to others!”