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.