January 16, 2011
BOOK OF THE WEEK: WEEK THREE, 2011
Kloppenberg, James T., Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2011) ("Many of the disillusioned, self-consciously tough-minded, and sometimes cynical commentators who shape public attitudes toward contemporary politics seem disinclined to take ideas seriously, but Obama's books demonstrate that he sees things differently. Ideas matter to him. For that reason understanding what those ideas are, where they have come from, and what difference they have made in shaping the sensibility of the forty-fourth president of the United States should matter to us." Id. at xviii. "Many Americans still prefer the comforting fable of founders who discovered unchanging Truth and distilled it into the Constitution. Others prefer the rousing tale of a noble people duped and disempowered from the start by the duplicitous architects of the Constitution. The record of Americans' squabbles in the early national period, however, shows that neither picture is accurate. Americans from different regions and states did not trust each other very much, and they were not sure their Constitution embodied any principles they should defend when their opponents were in power. They grudgingly agreed to put their faith in the possibility that provisional agreements might emerge through the unpredictable, agonistic experience of democratic contestation and compromise." "Only through the discursive process, as Madison observed, as Tocqueville confirmed in the 1830s, and as Obama clearly understands, did Americans come to know--or rather to create--what they called a common good. They understood that the ideal of a common good appeared and then receded along the horizon. It did not exist before they argued about it, and it changed shape as they tried to implement it. . . . Id. at 175-176.).