These versions of Obama are all caricatures...
...Obama is a thoroughly modern Washington liberal. Despite his personal popularity and his success at the polls, he recognizes that, in large swaths of America, the very word “liberal” remains a pejorative term—especially when it is applied to programs aimed at helping the poor, the low-paid, and the brown-skinned. Operating in what is largely hostile terrain, the crafty liberal politician operates not by subterfuge, exactly, but by embracing subtlety, coöption, and compromise. He wraps himself in the flag and refers to himself as a moderate. He talks about “opportunity” rather than “equality.” And he tries to hit singles and doubles rather than go for the long ball.
Today, the role model for any crafty liberal pol is Bill Clinton, who is now a progressive icon, though liberals were not so thrilled with him when he was actually in office. As a young Southern governor, it is sometimes forgotten, he was a prominent member of the Democratic Leadership Council, a corporate-funded vehicle set up to distance the Democratic Party from its image as a redoubt of McGovern-Carter-Mondale liberalism. In opposition to the sixties- and seventies-era language of rights and entitlements, Clinton talked extensively about responsibilities and obligations. Portraying himself as “New Democrat,” he tried to redefine liberalism as a social contract rather than a handout. During his eight years as President, he raised taxes on the rich and expanded tax credits for low earners, but also abolished large parts of the welfare system and declared that the era of big government was over.
Obama, during his even more meteoric rise, relied largely on his personal narrative, and his personal talents, rather than any particular group or standpoint. But if you read closely his speech at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte and Monday’s inaugural address, you will find echoes of Clinton, particularly in the notion of citizenship, which comes attached with individual rights but also with mutual interests and obligations.
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