Obama Book

Out of Many One: Obama and the Third American Political Tradition (University of Chicago Press, 2013)

Short Summary

American political thought has been dominated by two contrasting traditions: A minimalist, weak state supporting neoclassical capitalism and strong individual rights (Locke), and a relatively strong welfare state with regulatory capitalism (Rousseau).  Obama revitalized a third tradition in American politics, one of democratic progressivism that privileges neither the individual nor the state but promotes the interaction, the interconnectedness, and the interdependency between the two, all premised upon inclusivity and difference.  Obama’s vision is radical, not in economics but in how it strips the American middle class of its white, male, Anglo-Saxon, Christian, heterosexual, affluent, suburban connotations.

Obama cultivates a collaborative state, market, and society that facilitates freedom and mediates equality and earned egalitarianism in a cosmopolitan collectivity of shared, yet shifting, alliances that help govern the public, the private, and the social spheres.  This third tradition articulates the 17th-century theologian Baruch Spinoza’s ethics about power, mutual reliance, and enlightened self-interest and obligation or responsibility through the real-world perspectives of Alinsky, Dewey, Arendt, Du Bois, and Niebuhr.  Obama’s Spinozian vision can be seen in such areas as civil rights for LGBTers and immigrants, healthcare, financial regulation, education, climate control, and multilateralism.

Spinozian governance embodies a part of our frontier perspective, not as cowboys but as pioneers relying on each other in a wagon train.  Depending on and being accountable for one another, Obama proclaimed, is essential to the American individual, society, market, and state in the 21st century – an indispensable part of their very democratic existence.