Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition
Princeton University Press
“In this well written, comprehensive and concise book, Harvard professor James T. Kloppenberg details Obama’s complex intellectual influences, which includes political theory, social justice, theology and race.”
Our nation has been blessed with some impressive scholars-in-chiefs: from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to Woodrow Wilson. And it appears that history will judge our forty-fourth President as an equally exceptional leader of the highest intellect. But what are Obama’s Intellectual roots? And who are his role models? In this well written, comprehensive, and concise book, Harvard professor James T. Kloppenberg details Obama’s complex intellectual influences, which includes political theory, social justice, theology, and race.
The first chapter outlines Obama’s early intellectual development from his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, where his mother worked as an anthropologist, to his college years at Occidental College, Columbia, the Harvard School of Law, and the South Side of Chicago, where he worked as a community organizer. Chapter two deals with where Obama’s ideas stand at the turn of the century. And the last chapter posits Obama’s views in the larger context of American political thought. As Kloppenberg shows, the President is a broadly educated amalgam of complex thinkers, disciplines, movements, and outlooks, drawing from Ralph Ellison, Reinhold Niebuhr, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, St. Augustine, Howard Zinn, Saul Alinsky, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Though he classifies himself as a Democrat, Obama’s wide-ranging political and philosophical worldviews – which Kloppenberg details in this analysis of the presidents' books, Dream From my Father, and the Audacity of Hope – provide him with a bigger picture perspective to think of solutions beyond political labels and reaching common ground to solve problems.
Kloppenberg convincingly argues that William James’ and John Dewey’s philosophy of pragmatism are central to Obama’s political worldview. But that philosophy in today’s partisan era can produce muddled results. “If philosophical pragmatism informs Obama’s political outlook,” Kloppenberg writes, “the history of pragmatists’ engagement in politics also suggests the reason why pragmatism may be particularly ill-suited to our cultural moment.” In that sentence, the author described the main philosophical movement behind Obama’s genius, and the daunting challenge of applying his synthesis of pragmatism to further those movements in these reductionist times. “Obama understands that the power of our principles of liberty and equality depends not on the fervor [for] which they are proclaimed,” Kloppenberg writes, “but on the deliberative process from which they have developed.