Obama and the role of Political Theory in American Politics

December 13, 2011

Political Theory


When a candidate runs for the Presidency of the United States, he or (one day possibly she) are bound to promise many things that they will do while in office. Voters gauge that vision and how competent the candidate is at potentially fulfilling this vision. However, many times the President reneges on their promises, such as George H.W. Bush did with taxes.  So, Is the proposal of seemingly unattainable reforms beneficial or not in the American political arena?

After watching a 60 Minuets interview with President Barack Obama, the final points of our discussion group came up. Political Theory as a subject straddles between the realism of the science of politics and of normative philosophy. This vision of how the world should be according to a well-argued thesis by a brilliant philosopher and how the world actually is can be compared to a President elect awaiting office. For instance, President-elect Obama was living in a more theoretical world with his overarching plans to bring in true reform. He was able to do this because there was no accountability on his part yet. However, once he entered the oval office certain realities blindsided him. Sensitive information that only the President can know about brings theoretical ideas crashing down into harsh realities.

Since taking office in January of 2009, Obama has completed a stimulus that “stopped” the American economy from spirally even farther out of control, “saved” the auto industry, signed a new START treaty with Russia, repealed Bush restrictions on federal funding on stem cell research, overhauled Health Insurance, guided the economy to 9 consecutive quarters of growth, and Killed Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gadhafi. But, according to a recent CBS poll, at the moment 75% of the people in the country think Obama is headed in the wrong direction as president. 54% don’t think that he should be reelected for a second term. After all of these accomplishments, it seems that the economy statistically seems better than where we were before, but the national attitude hasn’t changed.

My point here is about the political theories Obama had before his term and now during it. It seems that the younger inspirational Obama who sounded like he was going to use his charm and intelligence to bring the nation together to solve the economic problems that plagued our nation. A future where our country would’ve erased the remnants of the past 8 years and start a new chapter in American History. This was Obama’s theoretical stance as a winning candidate. But now as President, it seems that he has attempted to do many of his big projects (Universal Health Care and let Bush Tax expire) but has settled for barely any reform or none in the sectors where he promised to transform things from the Bush era. One perfect example is the shutting down of Guantanamo Bay. He promised to shut it down, but to this day it is still open.

In the last discussion, our group talked about the worth of Political Theory. One conclusion is that Political Theory under the umbrella of Political Science is very important because its shows us how the world should be in an ideal setting, inspiring our lawmakers. Political Theory has the ability to motivate political players by showing them how the world should be. Even though most of these worlds are unattainable, I believe that to have an example of perfection inspires us to change our community in light of this perfection. Obviously, we aren’t going to live in a Hobbesian state of nature, but putting out this idea can be beneficial to actual society. If Obama didn’t have this hefty slate of maybe unattainable goals, then I feel that he would be less likely to tackle the big problems. Some may argue that he allowed for the status quo to remain (with caring for the 1% instead of the 99% or with Wall Street instead of Main Street) due to his lack of leadership.  Conversely, it’s undeniable that he has at least started the conversation on overhauling major changes in American politics. In some cases, like Health Care overhaul he has actually passed something relatively substantial even though it was extremely watered down from his original plans (i.e. no public option).

What are your thoughts about Obama and the role of Political Theory in achieving reform in American Politics?

Here is the interview:

Obama interview with Steve Kroft

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2 Comments on “Obama and the role of Political Theory in American Politics”

  1. daniellwang Says:

    Political theory is the way that philosophers set goals and standards for human society. I think that the development of political theory is the way that humans change their perceptions of the world. For example, the political theories of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X changed the way American society percieved equality. MLK especially helped society to believe that all men should be treated equally, not just white men. The political theories of John Locke influenced how the founding fathers viewed their world and affected the political theories that they developed. This ultimately resulted in the creation of the United States of America. Political philosophy is how humans analyze and improve themselves and the way that they live. Because of this, I would applaud Obama’s lofty goals when running for office. Although some of these goals ended up being impossible to achieve, I think that it is important for everyone to have high standards in the realization of their personal ideals. As the old adage goes, “Shoot for the moon and you’ll land amongst the stars”.

  2. patricksylau Says:

    I’m not whether political theory really plays a role in reforming American politics. While our politics has become increasing polarized then ever before, I’m not sure theory will be able to solve the problem. The political debates we have today on healthcare, social security, medicare, the environment and so on have not always been such controversial issues. The Clean Air Act of 1970 was passed with large bipartisan (Senate: 73-0, House 374-1), even though a similar law would not pass today. So I don’t think our problem is a systemic one. I have always believed that the American system of government is a very resilient one and it will eventually adapt to deal with the situation.

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