Yesterday’s New York Times carried a review of a lecture by historian James T. Kloppenberg, titled “In Writings of Obama, a Philosophy Is Unearthed.” According to the article, Kloppenberg contends that Obama is a true intellectual and a “philosopher president,” as were John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson.
If Kloppenberg is correct, it is astonishing that Obama was even elected in this age of anti-intellectualism. Kloppenberg identifies Obama’s philosophical stance as American pragmatism, which is not surprising given Obama’s predilection for Reinhold Niebuhr. But given that we live in an age dominated by ideologues, it is therefore also astonishing that this country elected a pragmatist, which is to say a sort of anti-ideologue.
I’m uncomfortable with Obama’s politics; he’s too far to the right for me. But I have been trying to figure out why I am so much more comfortable with Obama than I was with either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton, and I suspect it’s because of his philosophical stance. George W. Bush was (and is) an ideologue, someone who believes in an ultimate truth regardless of contradictory evidence (his rigid morality is a result of being an ideologue). Bill Clinton has, as far as I can tell, no philosophy whatsoever beyond mere expediency (and he has no more morality than a stick). It’s not Obama’s politics with which I’m comfortable, but with his philosophy of pragmatism (and with his morals, which are solid while able to grow and mature). I may not like his politics, but Obama is neither an ideologue like George W. Bush, or nothing at all like Bill Clinton.
This has gotten me thinking about the extent to which ideologues and ideologies have taken over the civic space, from the national stage, to science fiction fandom. These days, we have ideologues on the right and on the left and in the center. What little common morality we have is rigid and based on ideology. Ideologues scare the $#!t out of me; now they’re dominating this country, and that really scares the $#!t out of me.