In this insightful biography, Burton I. Kaufman explores how the political career of Barack Obama was marked by conservative tendencies that frustrated his progressive supporters and gave the lie to socialist fearmongering on the right. Obama’s was a landmark presidency that paradoxically, Kaufman shows, resulted in few, if any, radical shifts in policy.
Following his election, President Obama’s supporters and detractors anticipated radical reform. As the first African American to serve as president, he reached the White House on a campaign promise of change. But Kaufman finds in Obama clear patterns of classical conservativism of an ideological sort and basic policy-making pragmatism. His commitment to usher in a multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural society was fundamentally connected to opening up, but not radically altering, the existing free enterprise system.
The Affordable Care Act, arguably President Obama’s greatest policy achievement, was a distillation of his complex motivations for policy. More conservative than radical, the ACA fitted the expansion of health insurance into the existing system. Similarly, in foreign policy, Obama eschewed the use of force to affect regime change. Yet he kept boots on the ground in the Middle East and supported ballot-box revolts geared toward achieving in foreign countries the same principles of liberalism, free enterprise, and competition that existed in the United States.In estimating the course and impact of Obama’s full political life, Kaufman makes clear that both the desire for and fear of change in the American polity affected the popular perception but not the course of action of the forty-fourth US president.