The Plank

The Obama Paradox

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In his interview with the Washington Post yesterday, Barack Obama emphasized his distinctly un-Hillarylike prospects for healing the country's partisan divide, telling Dan Balz, "I think it is fair to say that I believe I can bring the country together more effectively than she can." Obama's desire to remake American politics also runs throughout our beloved Ryan Lizza's excellent new GQ profile-Lizza points out that Obama's campaign strives to make the case that he will be "the most transformational" of the presidential candidates. It is a theme with a good deal of intuitive appeal (though not, apparently, to Max Sawicky).

But there's a real clash between this and another main feature of Obama's persona: his oft-professed intellectual realism and modesty. As we learned from David Brooks, Obama is a fan of Reinhold Niebuhr, much of whose career was spent harping on the enduring conflicts of interest and ideology that resulted in persistent social discord. Niebuhr would surely have been skeptical of any politician's capacity for "transforming" American politics. And Obama has repeatedly couched his views on the Iraq war in anti-utopian terms, denouncing as "dangerous innocence" the notion that "we can remake the world any way we want by flipping a switch."

Perhaps social transformations will come easier in the domestic realm than they have in Iraq, but it's still somewhat curious (or daring?) of Obama, of all candidates, to stake his political future on the seemingly remote possibility that American politics can be rebuilt in a year or two.

--Josh Patashnik

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