October 27, 2010

The NYT trumpets that an academic has read all Obama's writings and "unearthed" a "philosophy"...

... but the philosophy is pragmatism.
To [Harvard historian James T. Kloppenberg] the philosophy that has guided President Obama most consistently is pragmatism...

Pragmatism maintains that people are constantly devising and updating ideas to navigate the world in which they live; it embraces open-minded experimentation and continuing debate. “It is a philosophy for skeptics, not true believers,” Mr. Kloppenberg said.
It's one thing for a philosopher to explain and promote pragmatism as a philosophy, but it's quite another to perceive that a given political character behaves and speaks in a pragmatic matter. Nearly all politics is pragmatic, but these politicians are not philosophers, unless you define "philosopher" down to a meaningless level. Touting Obama as a philosopher on this thin ground is the sort of inane idolatry of the President that I thought went out of style over a year ago.
Taking his cue from Madison, Mr. Obama writes in his 2006 book “The Audacity of Hope” that the constitutional framework is “designed to force us into a conversation,” that it offers “a way by which we argue about our future.” This notion of a living document is directly at odds with the conception of Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court, who has spoken of “the good, old dead Constitution.”
All right, now I'm genuinely annoyed. Scalia's "good, old dead Constitution" sets up a system of government that allows us to go on, indefinitely, engaged in a conversation about what we want to do as a polity. Does the author of this NYT article, Patricia Cohen, not know the difference between legislation and the work of courts using the Constitution to limit what legislators can do? The notion of a living Constitution is about the scope of the courts' role restricting what democratic majorities can enact. Justice Scalia doesn't oppose the results of that democratic "conversation" that plays out in legislatures!

If you bother to read to the end of this article, you'll see that Cohen eventually gets around to my first point. But check out the weird introductory clause she uses:
As for liberal critics, Mr. Kloppenberg took pains to differentiate the president’s philosophical pragmatism, which assumes that change emerges over decades, from the kind of “vulgar pragmatism” practiced by politicians looking only for expedient compromise. (He gave former President Bill Clinton’s strategy of “triangulation” as an example.)
There's no detail about these "pains," so I have no idea what Kloppenberg did other than to acknowledge the weakness of his assertion that Obama's pragmatism deserves to be called a "philosophy." But why does this sentence begin "As for liberal critics"? It seems to have to do with the fact that Kloppenberg was giving a lecture in NYC and he had some critics in the audience. I can only guess that "liberals" is an appropriate way to refer to the human beings that show up for a lecture in New York City.
Not all of the disappointed liberals who attended the lecture....
Were there no disappointed conservatives?
...in New York were convinced that that distinction can be made so easily. T. J. Jackson Lears, a historian at Rutgers University, wrote in an e-mail that by “showing that Obama comes out of a tradition of philosophical pragmatism, he actually provided a basis for criticizing Obama’s slide into vulgar pragmatism.”
Ah! The liberals are sad that Obama lacks a crisper ideology.
And despite Mr. Kloppenberg’s focus on the president’s intellectual evolution, most listeners wanted to talk about his political record.
Sounds like Kloppenberg's lecture was not well-received. It all comes down to politics. Does that make the audience members pragmatists? Does that make them philosophers?

68 comments:

Robin said...

The NYT gives us so many words but the result is utter incoherence.

Michael said...

This weekend I realized that I no longer required the NYT. The Sunday edition, the one I have waited for and read for fifty years put me to sleep. I found myself reaching in my pile of papers to the weekend edition of the WSJ and the FT. More book and arts reviews, better writing, axes that don't have to be ground in every single fucking article. I think I shall soon release myself from this magazine, from the west down to the east.

Moose said...

One man's pragmatism is another man's opportunism.

And Obama is a heck of a "pragmatist".

New "Hussein" Ham said...

"Touting Obama as a philosopher on this thin ground is the sort of inane idolatry of the President that I thought went out of style over a year ago."

It didn't go out of style. And it never will.

To Democrats ... Obama is their God. And if you suggest otherwise ... you are to be purged from their club house.

They'll be writing these sorts of bullshit papers for the next 50 years ... and receiving raises for it.

Write a paper critical of Barack Obama and see what happens! Instant lynching.

AJ Lynch said...

A pragmatist would not try to help 35 million uninsured people by fucking with the insurance of the other 265 million people.

Palladian said...

"As for liberal critics, Mr. Kloppenberg took pains to differentiate the president’s philosophical pragmatism, which assumes that change emerges over decades, from the kind of “vulgar pragmatism” practiced by politicians looking only for expedient compromise. (He gave former President Bill Clinton’s strategy of “triangulation” as an example.)"

"Vulgar" comes from Latin, vulgus, i.e. (id est) "the common people". In other words, these liberals don't want the will of the nasty commoners to be represented or even noticed by the elite (from Latin, eligere, "the elect", e(x), "out" + legere, "to pick"... to pick out).

The vulgar will speak next week, and do some picking out of their own... or perhaps more appropriately, vomitus, "to spew out or discharge, as with a sickness".

edutcher said...

Agree with AJ. A pragmatist would have seen the vast unpopularity of what The Zero did and change course early this year. Not tell everybody it's their fault he's sinking by the bow.

Also, The Zero says, "the constitutional framework is 'designed to force us into a conversation,'". What about the Supreme Law of the Land?

Oh, right, he was in Indonesia the year they covered that.

This guy lectured on the Constitution???

Oy!!

Quayle said...

"This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."

Barak Obama
Pragmatist

DaveW said...

Yeah I'm going to disagree with this guy from the start that Obama is any sort of pragmatist.

AJ Lynch said...

Easiest way to spot a liberal: he loves having a "conversation".

Here's the conversation they will hear on Tuesday: If it ain't a core duty of the govt, keep your fucking mitts off of it.

NotYourTypicalNewYorker said...

Obama is not a pragmatist, he's a ideologue. When this country finally gets to see what he is in a black and white paper trail, thats when the shit hits the fan for the MSM and the democrats.

El Pollo Real said...

Pragmatic means skilled in business or law. link

The notion that Mr. Obama is eminently practical (and we’re not) is risible.

DaveW said...

Pragmatism: A person oriented towards a practical approach to problems and affairs.

Ideologue: An often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology.

Which fits?

NotYourTypicalNewYorker said...

Vero Possumus Vomitus

YoungHegelian said...

"Pragmatism", So, Obama's into "Pragmatism", is he?

Is he into good ole' Uhmerican-style Dewey type pragmatism? Or Rorty's neo-pragmatism? James? Pierce? Who?

I mean if you're going to stick a man into a philosophical school, you're going to have to build a intellectual history to support your claim. Maybe Kloppenberg did, and the reporter just missed it.

However, if Jackson Lears thinks it's booya, it's probably just booya.

Stoopid Texan said...

President Shortpants is a garden-variety American Lefty. Is that so hard?

BJM said...

The NYT continues full speed ahead into the ice field of insolvency.

Sixty Grit said...

Leftist conversation, oft noted here "Shut up, he explained".

Pragmatic and Marxist - two philosophies in one.

Chase said...

Pragmatism maintains that people are constantly devising and updating ideas to navigate the world in which they live; it embraces open-minded experimentation and continuing debate. “It is a philosophy for skeptics, not true believers



Doesn't the word "whore" fit the same definition?

NotYourTypicalNewYorker said...

Whatever Obama is, he isn't governing, he's been at full tilt campaigning for over a year and a half now with no end in sight. After his evisceration Tuesday, he'll switch into 2012 campaign mode.

It's all that he is.

Trooper York said...

This is why professors and teachers should be replaced with robots.

Quayle said...

Is he into good ole' Uhmerican-style Dewey type pragmatism? Or Rorty's neo-pragmatism? James? Pierce? Who?

I mean if you're going to stick a man into a philosophical school, you're going to have to build a intellectual history to support your claim. Maybe Kloppenberg did, and the reporter just missed it.

However, if Jackson Lears thinks it's booya, it's probably just booya.


YoungHegelian, are you sure you're on the right blog? Folks around here typically only pretend to know so much.

tim maguire said...

I consider myself a pragmatist, but I never imagined one could use so many words to explain it. I just say my idealism is tempered by an interest in what works.

metasailor said...

Michael:

This statement of yours is simply not true.

"To Democrats ... Obama is their God. And if you suggest otherwise ... you are to be purged from their club house."

I mean, has Jon Stewart has **totally** been banished from the club house?

Nope. And he's been one of Obama's harshest non-Fox critics for months now.

Maguro said...

I think it was Stuart Scott who developed the philosophical underpinnings of booya.

Freeman Hunt said...

Pragmatism isn't a philosophy; it's an ends to a philosophy. An approach. A technique.

Thank you. Thank you. You need not pay me $30,000 a year, or whatever outrageous amount colleges are charging now, to tell you that.

tim maguire said...

I can only guess that "liberals" is an appropriate way to refer to the human beings that show up for a lecture in New York City.

There are a lot of conservatives in NYC, even among lecture attendees. Their numbers tend to get underestimated because they keep quiet about their conservatism--it's just not worth the grief.

rhhardin said...

Cavell on the pragmatist, as seen by Emerson, Althouse link.

stevenehrbar said...

Philosophical pragmatism? Is anybody still taking that ludicrous pile of shit seriously?

traditionalguy said...

The essence of the good professor's view of a Philosophy of Pragmatism is that an intelligent educator learns how easy it is to tell a lie to cover up a past lie that covered up earlier lies, etc.. That sounds like a flexible person who can be compromised with, but in practice it means a person who can NEVER be trusted ... or as El Rushbo likes to say, " all of Obama's statements and promises have expiration dates." No one knows if Obama has a goal except America's failure to mau-mau us for Kenya's colonial experience under the British Empire. A Leader must point out a clear goal and tell us how to get there from here. To see an example of leadership, watch Sarah Palin in action.

ricpic said...

Trying to figure out what Mr. Kloppenberg means by pragmatism is like trying to put socks on an octopus; when in truth and in short pragmatism simply boils down to...does it work?

ricpic said...

No philosophy can compete with booyah!

MayBee said...

Obama doesn't really like debate. He likes to lecture. Occasionally he'll listen to someone on his side with a disagreement.
But look at the health care "summit". "The election is over, John" "You shouldn't have brought a prop, Eric" "Shut up, Paul."

Obama's idea of a conversation is to disregard people who actually disagree with him, occasionally acknowledging they exist, and then announcing how wrong they are. He'll only discuss things with people on the left with the same ultimate goal.

dbp said...

I have little doubt, from a certain perspective Obama is quite pragmatic. The perspective I mean is that of "the human beings that show up for a lecture in New York City."

For instance, they & he would like a nice single-payer health care system. Obama recognizes that this is politically impossible, so he goes for a reform that sets us on a glide-path to that inevitable result. The lefty professors think Obama is pragmatic (in a bad way) for not insisting on what he and they know is the right path.

To the rest of us Obama seems doctrinaire since he pushes for stuff most of us don't want. And does it in the face of plain evidence (to us) that the schemes are bound to fail.

raf said...

You clearly don't understand. The constitution is like a blog post, intended to inspire a stream of comments, which are the really important things.

wv: scrality. Strangely appropriate, but I don't know why.

Paul Zrimsek said...

The constitution is like a blog post, intended to inspire a stream of comments, which are the really important things.

At the We The People Cafe...

...feel free to add your own penumbras and emanations.

HDHouse said...

i took the number 7 train from 40th street in Sunnyside to Grand Central and read the collective works of George Bush. Does that count? I found him tedious but consistently boring with no philosophy other than 'what me worry'?

Bruce Hayden said...

I guess my problem with calling President Obama a pragmatist is that his legislative accomplishments have not been so much pragmatic, as ideological. I am thinking of the "stimulus" bill, as well as ObamaCare.

In the case of the "stimulus" bill, we saw mostly payoffs for political constituencies, and few real attempts at stimulus. The biggest effect of the bill, except for ultimately adding most of a trillion dollars to the deficit, was to save government jobs and give government employees raises.

ObamaCare looks even worse - almost two thousand pages of statist prescriptions, with little apparent thought to how the various parts would interact, and almost no connection between what was supposedly being addressed, and the prescribed solutions. And, as with the "stimulus", little thought as to how to make the entire scheme work.

The financial institution regulation again fails the pragmatism test. Again, thousands of pages of regulations, again, failing to even address the major issue that was supposedly being addressed, with the too-big-to-fail firms being essentially exempt from the new regulations. Rather, the bill merely raised the cost of business to their smaller competitors. So, instead of solving the original problem, that problem will ultimately be worsened, with those mega-firms getting even bigger, and thus even less likely to be allowed to fail.

Of course, if you think that pragmatism means extorting the maximum amount of benefit for those supporting him, and levying the maximum amount of harm on those who don't, then, maybe Obama really is pragmatic. But, if so, it is a pragmatism that does the country as a whole much harm.

Bruce Hayden said...

To the rest of us Obama seems doctrinaire since he pushes for stuff most of us don't want. And does it in the face of plain evidence (to us) that the schemes are bound to fail.

But it is pragmatic from the point of view of his major constituents benefiting. After what is more important, most of a trillion dollars in additional debt, or keeping a bunch of government employees employed and giving even more of them raises?

America's Politico said...

This story in NYT shows why President Obama is the greatest president since JFK. Every one knows it. The voters. The academia. The press.

Now, the GOP knows. It is over for the party of the living dead. Next Tuesday, it is good-bye to the GOP time.

What can you do? Vote for the Democrats. Save yourself. Be a winner.

garage mahal said...

"Vulgar" comes from Latin, vulgus, i.e. (id est) "the common people". In other words, these liberals don't want the will of the nasty commoners to be represented or even noticed by the elite (from Latin, eligere, "the elect", e(x), "out" + legere, "to pick"... to pick out).\\


Sarah Palin was endorsing some bozo, can't remember who, with the tagline "Fighting the Establishment!", and I did a spit take reading it. The gall of Republicans going claiming to represent commoners is enough to choke a fucking horse.

New "Hussein" Ham said...

"A pragmatist would not try to help 35 million uninsured people by fucking with the insurance of the other 265 million people."

All Barack Obama did to "help" the 35 million uninsured is pass a law requiring that they purchase health insurance (from his campaign donors, mind you).

Gee, I didn't know it was so easy to "help" people. Obama's not a pragmatist. He's a fucking thief.

What's next, requiring the homeless to purchase a house (from Democrat realtors)?

Passing a law requiring sad hungry children to purchase Happy Meals?

With friends like Barack Obama, the poor don't need enemies.

Obama's philosophy is to require you to buy shit from Democrats at the barrel of his gun. That's his fucking Chicago mafia philosophy.

He's a guido douchebag.

YoungHegelian said...

@Quayle,

The thetorical questions of my previous post were meant for the Times reporter, and to a lesser extent Kloppenberg.

It wasn't really directed to the denizens of this blog, as in "So, Titus, just how are synthetic apriori judgements possible?"

Then again, Titus may be a big Kant fan, and I'm in for a major league dialectical bitch-slapping.

traditionalguy said...

Garage is right that the GOP has seldom represented the common man when money was there to be made by favoring Business arrangements over common men's needs (E.g., The Med Mal reforms trying to eliminate patient's rights to compensation for medical negligence). But the world has reinvented itself since the late 1990s as the Clinton Progressives sold out their patriotic American values for a piece of the action from new super rich, internationalist monied interests. (E.g., Soros and the international Communists disguised as environmentalists). Then this Tea Party awoke and began its trek by diving into the GOP's cosa nostra like organisation. Palin and her gang actually are attempting toeliminate the GOP's habitual corruption from Murkowski, to Crist to Castle...and she is still in a struggle to the death against the Rove spokeman for the Bushes and their allies. When she wins, then a new hybrid GOP can begin to spread its wings and govern as serious Americans that value the good in the USA that has not yet been stolen by the old GOP or sold out to foreign interests by the Traitor Party calling itself Democrats.

DADvocate said...

The lefties need a "living document" as a basis for their twisting and turning of the original meaning of the Constitution. Things change, times change, we need to change with it, the spirit of the Constitution, it's a living document, here drink this purple kool aid.

edutcher said...

HDHouse said...

i took the number 7 train from 40th street in Sunnyside to Grand Central and read the collective works of George Bush. Does that count? I found him tedious but consistently boring with no philosophy other than 'what me worry'?

At least Dubya wrote his.

garage mahal said...

"Vulgar" comes from Latin, vulgus, i.e. (id est) "the common people". In other words, these liberals don't want the will of the nasty commoners to be represented or even noticed by the elite (from Latin, eligere, "the elect", e(x), "out" + legere, "to pick"... to pick out).\\


Sarah Palin was endorsing some bozo, can't remember who, with the tagline "Fighting the Establishment!", and I did a spit take reading it. The gall of Republicans going claiming to represent commoners is enough to choke a fucking horse.


Here and I thought the Lefties thought she wasn't fit to lead because she was a commoner.

Now she's a aristocrat.

Who'd'a thunk?

Palladian said...

The "common man" would mostly like to be left alone.

Maguro said...

The "common man" would mostly like to be left alone.

Sorry, not possible, old chap. Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourself to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your life as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

Just in case you hadn't heard.

ForLbrty said...

"Pragmatism" is not an ideology, it is an excuse.
It knows no laws, no rights, no values, no morality.
It has no limits.

bgates said...

Easiest way to spot a liberal: he loves having a "conversation".

Easiest way to spot a progressive: he loves to force people into a conversation.

Easiest way to spot a wannabe tyrant: he claims the point of the American system of government is to force people to do what he wants.

garage mahal said...

Just in case you hadn't heard.

George Bush told you to put food on your family. Did you listen then too?

LakeLevel said...

A pragmatist looks around to see what works, then trys that. Obama looks at lefty dogma, asumes that works, then pushes that no matter the evidence against it. See "green jobs", Obama care, Stimulus, etc.

Palladian said...

"That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones."

Does that mean staying in a four-star hotel rather than a five-star hotel when taking pleasure trips to India?

Methadras said...

Until SCOTUS can explain why they constantly and consistently use foreign law as a spine to prop up precedence or even create precedence, then the concept of a living Constitution will never die.

AST said...

Does the author of this NYT article, Patricia Cohen, not know the difference between legislation and the work of courts using the Constitution to limit what legislators can do?

You're kidding, right? No liberal since Woodrow Wilson has known that. What do you think the whole FDR court packing scheme was about?

(OK, I know it was a rhetorical question, but so was mine.)

wv: backire - if it isn't a word, it oughta be.

Methadras said...

HDHouse said...

i took the number 7 train from 40th street in Sunnyside to Grand Central and read the collective works of George Bush. Does that count? I found him tedious but consistently boring with no philosophy other than 'what me worry'?


Et tu Titus?

Seven Machos said...

I was forced to read quite a bit about pragmatism as philosophy in college. It's an impressive theory. The crucial idea is that there are new facts every day -- which is certainly true and pretty radically important -- and that we should take those new facts into account when attempting to deal with the world.

The huge flaw of pragmatism is that those new facts must, by nature of the new universe, come into the world in certain predictable ways. The analogy is a river. It is a new river every day in the sense that it's different water floating by, but it's the same river and all rivers are produced the same way and they change little over any lifetime, or 10 lifetimes.

Anyone who things seriously about the implications of pragmatism as a philosophy almost has to end up adopting conservatism.

Seven Machos said...

new universe -- What? Typo.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

I'm really disappointed in the conservatives here. Nearly 60 comments in, and not one has responded the way I expected:

"Writings? What writings? The man has no academic writings to speak of!"

Oh, and...

"And his books were ghostwritten!"

I thought those were articles of faith for conservative commenters.

Seriously, I expected a lot of snarking over the lack of writings. Instead, commenters seem to concede the existence of the writings, and move onto disputing their accuracy (along with dozens of other side complaints).

I can't get to the article right now. Do the historian and the reporter mention which writings were involved? There's mention of The Audacity of Hope in the excerpt. If that bit of fluff is the whole basis for this discussion, well... The historian has wasted more words on it than it's worth. The reporter has wasted more words on it than it's worth. And this comment thread has wasted more words on it than it's worth.

traditionalguy said...

Shoemaker...Contrary to what you said, conservatives no longer put down Barry for using a Ghost Writer, not that there is anything wrong with that. Since DiNesh D'Souza's writings are all taken from Dreams of my Father, we now believe that Barry wrote every word of it. And a funny thing is that no pragmatism is seen in D'Souza's analysis.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

traditionalguy,

I'm unaware of the D'Souza connection. I guess I haven't paid close attention there.

Call me cynical, but I assume most books by politicians are ghost written. For that matter, I assume that of most books written by any public figure. Bringing a book to publication is difficult and time consuming, and I don't expect many public figures to have the time or the skills to pull it off. A good wordsmith can take poorly organized ideas and shape them into a coherent message. As long as the public figure has a major hand in subject and tone and has final approval, I don't see anything phony there.

Sixty Grit said...

Wow - hdhouse wrote "collective works", so he must have been thinking of his hero and friend with benefits, Omongrel.

America's Asshole posted some gibberish, in God only knows what language, and as usual, he does not disappoint.

Two of the greatest minds that liberalism has ever produced, commenting on the same thread - can it get any better than this?

Mick said...

What a load of NONSENSE. The author is obviously a propagandist for the White House. How does he know anything about Obama's intellectual evolution when so much of the history of his intellectual evolution is hidden? Of course he totally ignores that point. A PRAGMATIST? HAHAHAHA!!!!!!
He is a Marxist Ideologue.
He is also the most serious threat to our liberty ever to come down the pike. He is an ineligible Usurper (his father was NEVER a US Citizen), installed by the World Banker debt pushers, that is attempting to destroy this nation's sovereignty and subject it to World Governess. "Deeply Loves this country??!!! HAHAHAHA. He hates this country. What a puff propaganda piece!!

The Crack Emcee said...

Touting Obama as a philosopher on this thin ground is the sort of inane idolatry of the President that I thought went out of style over a year ago.

And I thought should never have happened in the first place. People - what are we gonna do with 'em?

MayBee said...

Martin L Shoemaker- good point. I don't know which writings are included in "all" of Obama's writings. His college papers? His works at the law firm? His notes as a state legislature? As far as I know, none of that is available.

Tradguy " we now believe that Barry wrote every word of it."

are you being tongue in cheek?

c3 said...

Philosophical underpinnings???

Isn't this way to early. It feels like Obama is Merlin the wizard from "Sword in the Stone". He's living his life backwards. We've already had the "deep thinkers" muse on his philosophical underpinnings and the Nobel Prize. Should I assume that eventually he'll get to successfully shepherding a school bond through for the local elementary school?

c3 said...

And when will liberals stop using George Bush as the reference point?

(If I recall correctly it took about a decade for Nixon to no longer be the touchpoint for Republican misdeeds.)

Blue@9 said...

I would be more inclined to trust this guy if his list didn't look like this:

"“There’s John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Quincy Adams, then Abraham Lincoln and in the 20th century just Woodrow Wilson,” he said."

I'm sorry, but WTF? No love for TR? Ronald Reagan? Woodrow Wilson was a philosopher President? And if philosophical pragmatism is allowed, what about Coolidge?