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