The Audacity of Hope

Which brings us to the second possible interpretation of Obama’s equivocations. He really is not a political warrior by temperament. He is not even, as the word is commonly understood, a liberal. He is in many respects a civic republican—a believer in civic virtue, and in the possibility of good outcomes negotiated in good faith. These concepts are consonant with liberalism in many respects, but since the rise in the 1960s of a more aggressive rights-based liberalism, which sometimes places particular claims for social justice ahead of a larger universal good, the two versions have existed in some tension.

From “The Phenomenon,” by Michael Tomasky, in The New York Review of Books.

2 thoughts on “The Audacity of Hope”

  1. Horseshit. Obama is a Title VII lawyer, first and foremost. Tomasky would have us believe that Obama is against such rights-based liberalism when his entire non-political career hasa been about advancing such an agenda. Thank god he has done so.

  2. There's not a conflict between making civil rights claims and civic republicanism. Rights, in the civic republican context, are just institutions for achieving the basis of the good polis. Civic republicans don't forgo the very useful strategy of rights-claims, we simply keep factors other than individual rights and liberties in mind in our actions. The most important balancing test is whether a rights claim will be more damaging to the fabric of the community than the right being fought for can heal. In the case of Title VII, these claims almost always further both the foundations of democratic self-governance and the claims of individuals injured by racism. To make your claim, you'd have to be able to show that Obama sacrificed the good of the republic for the tawdry preservation of some minor and unimportant right.

    By the way, Rob: you've posted here before. How'd you find me?

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