it always works well and interesting things that happen with the informed public. the difference tonight instead of firing away jumping in on the heels of the previous comment for you just have to pause a moment by one of our runners to get a microphone before you. you just have to wait. i will stop you. those are the ground rules. let me begin. good to see you, jim. in light of some new folks, those who may not have read their recent book "reading obama", i think we can start with a bare bones comment about what could you
say are the principal shaping forces of the intellectual formation of barack obama? that is what you have written about and how do introduce folks to those factors and your argument about it? >> thank you for being here and to the circle for having us. it is a treat to be here and a part of the series. i started work on this book as a detour from a book i have been working on for quite awhile history of democracy from the ancient world through the 18th century and i was teaching get cambridge giving a series of lectures on political thought when they came back to the united states for a symposium after the election of barack obama. then i reread "dreams from my father" and "the audacity
of hope" and found all of the themes i have developed in the first seven and lectures were developed in his book in "the audacity of hope." a looked to see what had been written about the book and the answer was nothing. people treat it as if it was another book by another political hack laying out the campaign program but laid out by a professor of constitutional law out reflecting on american history. i undertook to do the intellectual biography of the recently elected presidents of the theme has to do with the stage of his life. if you read dreams of my father he does a very good job to identify many influences but doesn't talk much about his education, this shaping experiences of the steadying american history. i spent a lot of time with people who taught him, worked with him in
chicago, basically piece together the story of how he came to see the world as he does and explains it in "the audacity of hope" and dreams of my father. there are several themes one is a distant -- distance between universalism and the assumption their principles that is time was the two the distance between their confidence and the concern that arises in the late 20th century that all principals are particular to individual nations, cultures, time, pla ce, the tension between universalism and particularism or anti-foundation is one of the principles and issues discussed in the book because obama's is drawn in both directions and it is part of what makes him
interesting figure. the second is his use of american history. he was accustomed to dealing with the constitution and he has written if it has affected the ratings of the fellow constitutional law specialist. and those are the two principal concerns along the way i develop how they see american democracy and see the constitution and how he thinks we should be operating as a democracy in the 21st century. >> as we open the discussion and o then the matters, i want to ask you as one who works in the 18th century and materials that grow more obscure, here you
are, writing about democracy and all of a sudden coming here you are to write about a contemporary figure, the question is one of the major themes in this series, what does the historian bring? what in particular or specifically does the historian bring to the assessment and evaluation and interpretation of the intellectual biography of a political figure? what do we add to that? >> i could do two things on that score. first, to place barack obama himself in the history of late 20th century intellectual development in the united states. what hasn't been done.
he was not a creature of history. second, his use of american history. when he writes about the constitution and anti-slavery and civil war and the progress of reform movement and the new deal and franklin roosevelt very ambitious plans for the second deliberates at the end of the second world war, he writes as an insider somebody who has spent a lot of time thinking about american history that distinguishes him from people from american politics and it does seem to me that there was something to be said for looking critically and carefully at the use he makes of history when making arguments as a partisan elected politician. part of what interested me to talk to his teachers and people who had worked with him is how uniformly they confirmed to my sense this
is someone from the time he was first a freshman in college took seriously the relation between ideas and political action. he has said many times the most important course his he took was the first and second year at occidental an american intellectual history and european intellectual history and chose to study political theory to know how ideas translate into politics? if that is his own conception and and the way he sees american politics, it seems to me it is only fair to take these folks seriously to see how he performs that operation himself and how he moves from his understanding into his understanding of politics. only a professional historian would have heard the of gross of professional historical scholarship in what looks too many people
as simply a partisan use of materials from american history but it is much more than that. only someone who does history for a living may see that as historians see it. >> host: then you took up your pen to roach a very accessible treatment of this. you could have buried it in professional this course. who are you hoping to reach and to what end? here is how he thinks and isn't it interesting or we are engaged in various ways. so the audience and other expectations of a very good question and it is written for the people in this room. people just like you because
it does seem to be there is the assumption of a pervasive cynicism about american public life that most of our officials are fools or knaves or both but i went into this very skeptical about barack obama myself so none of the figures of the democratic party wavelength seem to me to be particularly attractive and i thought clinton was more progressive than obama's so why was interested in him but after read the book realize that whenever i may think of his particular position, this is a serious thinker who has wrestled with issues in american history the way most have not. what i did come away from the project doing that i did
not do in the beginning was to admire him as a person of substance. too many people, the tone of the book comes across adds uncritical zero or add firing of the policies. that is something of a surprise to me. there are quite a few passages in the book and sadr kurri -- quite critical of the steps he took in the first year of the presidency but moving from the scholarly community you can count done people reading quite carefully to make close readings to refer in detail to what you have written in the popular press it does not work that way. people make quick interventions of the purpose of the book without thinking very carefully about how the argument works. that is surprising to me but you are right for the first
time it is the attempt to reach beyond our committee of discourse to engage the broader audience and overall the response has been gratifying and hard to name but the response from reviewers has been quite different. >> host: i will do something i ask questions because i am thinking about the historians responsibility, especially contemporary history 20th history and pointing, i will ask you the question of how would you assess the state of the american public awareness and understanding of what you write about us is essential democracy? it is a thinking person's
form of government by your own argument and by obama's, it is democracy as discourse and conversation and democracy has only and self-interest and collaboration and and reaching some kind of consensual and extended conversations in. this requires surge in a criminal the part of citizens as well as representatives. what are you getting from your response at this level? is it as bad as i might imagine? you look right at it. what is your assessment? >> some response is why you would expect or fear. people need to read the book lowered donte seriously the argument before they dismiss it about how accurate it has to be before they looked at the evidence.
it is not by any means the general reaction the people who tend to come to you thence like this to e-mail or get in touch with me are people who lourdes a visit -- sufficiently interested to be well informed. there is a large percentage of the american public that is hungry for a more sustained and caged discussion about genuine problems and possible solutions. also a very noisy and well-paid segment of the american public that realizes there is nothing to be gained and much more to be gained a shouting louder than the other person to simplify more crudely complicated issues. with that crowd, this book is not well, but what i found some trekking of
obama's on analysis he calls for exactly this kind of discussion and admits unlike many fellow democrats he does not think he or his party have the answers to every problem america faces. that was an unexpected turn the book takes in a number of places. i think he is committed to the notion of discourse, a genuinely as a way of finding solutions that don't seem of them. this is a fascinating document to have the and thank you for bringing it forward but an example of how contested discussions of the constitution were write-up until the last minute. and his account of the constitution, obama offers a very incisive reading of james madison who looked back on the constitutional convention and reports
everyone who went there had a vision of what the outcome would be. by the end of every person there have a different edition because of the give and take in philadelphia during that summer broke and that was the vision of how democracy works. if you find yourself confronting arguments you are forced to sink different a. and from "the audacity of hope" is how a democracy should work. people with differing convictions and points of view and understandings of what ought to be tried have to confront each other and experiment with solutions. if it fails, you try something else. you do not believe dogmatically that you have a formula that yields the public good. it emerges from the process of debate and disagreement
and reformulation. that is how it has to work if it is something other than a shouting match. >> host: this is more at the question of performance in office for which you're not responsible but you are being asked on vacation by your readers. this gets you into a position to start thinking about particular issues, legislation, leaders hip, policy options, and that have been taken and are fair game but remember jim is responsible. but at least one step further which is not quite pluralistic but the word that comes through the most
this pragmatic. the pragmatic element and philosophical element of obama's common the understanding that there is more than one way to come at an issue and then this some maybe great then parts we can get somewhere if we just imagine what was there, is the heart of his approach to political leadership. my question is not only for obama and do but the pragmatic approach in the first place. in my reading of pragmatism which goes from william james on, if presumes or requires from a constitutional debate to agree on some things.
at least a premise there is a calming could and both you and i still have a conversation that is framed and about us achieving fat common good. what happens when you have a political faction that doesn't share that assumption? thinking you must be some sort of a demon or a sinner or you name it, that has absolutized to be polarized, not only in the public but actually our ability to be khalid geo and chief a negotiated a reasonable settlement for the common good. what happens if it is a religious extremists are political ideologue lowered
their right wayne capitalist? who doesn't believe in that game? who doesn't believe in that procedure and if it is essential or fundamental to the constitution of just and fair laws it is not shared by the parties, how can you need? >> you get the politics we have early april 2011 and we have been watching for the last two years how that unfolds. i don't need to illustrate more then receive from looking at our newspaper but one has to ask what is the alternative? my own feeling which many have observed is barack obama is playing chess and we are playing checkers. [laughter] and from the very beginning
has envisioned a presidency of 80 years using his image to lower the temperature of american political culture. to deny the gulf is as wide as the first opponents claim that it is and he has good data on his side but almost all of the hot-button issues there are 15 or 20% at one and/or at the other and 60 or 70% are in the middle. i think his beliefs is his percentage have nowhere to go and if he could persuade more than 50% to come his way to lowered the temperature to have that conversation instead of the shouting match then over a period of time we could shift away from division as a war of competing forces
that sees it as an image for the constitution to say it invites us to begin talking about our differences it is a gamble he could lose in 2012. but i think if you read "the audacity of hope" pc the foundation on which the gamble rest is the american people have demonstrated they are more with him than they are against him and now we stand today at a moment when we are threatened with a government shutdown so this will be a dramatic moment if we've learned there is a willingness to compromise are not. i believe there has been effort on the part of the president to find a middle ground in this crisis has there has been others in difficult to know where that
is because it does seem to keep moving but the problem is now, maybe for the first time a very well funded group of people who have a large vested interest to keep the conversation he did and extreme and have a lot to lose if the conversation becomes more moderate. so where we have seen that temperature where we see that pendulum swing between hyper partisanship and when that happen in the past there were reasons why they could not explain the relative decline but in those earlier periods not quite those consolation of forces does not mean it will not happen but that is what he is betting on.
>> like revivalism. so you have a revival and it works. now let's have another revival and that is the right and the fundamentalist are right now. pro what do we do? have another revival. it is a monolithic keep it hot all the time because that is what has worked before there is not a good default option. i could ask jim about obama and religion and i will but we have been going for quite awhile and you have been more blunt than usual. is there anyone who would like to get in on this? we're having a good time.
[laughter] >> they do for your comments hong you invited us to bring up the particular policy issue without detailed we had a compelling alternative view of the budget presented by congressmen paul ryan without the details, it certainly does envision a much different type of society with different implications that are not immediate the apparent it would seem to invite a rebuttal by president their response to that type of vision to say these are the implications to go down the road. maybe they cry for that kind of leadership. i wonder from a philosophy of pragmatism if that is
what one could expect of a president to take that approach? is there a contradiction? that i will not give you that immediate response to see how this plays out over eight years. your thoughts? >> and whatever or politics think of barack obama's an effective communicator, have been surprised how little he has made use of the ability of the crisis moments. i don't have a good answer. i will come back speech myself. it is part of a concerted strategy to allow the other side the chance to make the case and i think the budget that paul ryan presented yesterday locates the republican party if he speaks for its where it will appeal to no more than 18% of the american population.
if that continues, the president makes a politically shrewd decision by saying i will simply let you continue to speak in the echo chamber of which you exist and people will tell you if that makes sense but my polling data suggest 85% of the american people think this is crazy. this is a radical preconception of american politics. most of the programs under attack in the budget are programs that happen in place over a century and moat -- much of the thrust of the early 20th century emerges from wisconsin called the wisconsin idea from the 1890's. the promise there is a common good and appointed government is to find that regulation to make sure it a productive economy does not
do damage and the central focus was encapsulated into the graduated income tax or the progressive income tax. at the heart of the paul ryan budget you would reduce for the wealthiest americans at 25%. this is a more dramatic of the rethinking tax code from a century even republicans in the 1920's were not quite so extreme as paul ryan is in the budget so that is of fundamental reformulation of american politics over the last century. the attack on medicare and medicaid go to the heart of what has been a tradition in america since the new deal and reformulated but it is time to stop using the word conservative it is a radical right they interested in
rolling back not just the programs of the '60s but also the programs of the thirties also dating back from the 19 teens. he is happy to let people like me do a version of the soapbox speech and wait until the 2012 campaign that he can contrast that vision of the zero winner-take-all society where everybody else is left to their own devices against a different vision. >> the volcker pragmatist would say give them enough rope. we have another. >> thank you. perhaps the one recent college graduate in the room. [laughter] still bright guy and bushy
tail i will play the generation card and i suppose a two-part question. current communication technologies used by cellphones and email m. blog post and twitter arguably enable us to have greater discourse and dialogue and ever before. so he quipped with these communication technologies, why have we not had the foreword moving conversations that you talk about, the dialogues that results and policies? and is my reading of this historical moment with
particular new and unprecedented abilities? is that true? or have we seen the introduction of radio or television or the printing press? >> it is right. it is qualitative the different. three things come to mind immediately her have never met barack obama but yet i get an e-mail from him on a regular basis. [laughter] i suspect others do as well. he is communicating with us at some moments also with a it wider audience. [laughter] i don't know how much attention and you paid to the blogs or responses to articles on the internet. my own experience has been not as a participant but observer with five or six response is the conversation
you give those speeches, you make those appearances and to participate in the new media, and i think he has deliberately been keeping a low profile so that when the time comes he doesn't have to do it for four years. he can do it for six months and energize those people who have been waiting patiently to hear this message in particular. that is a guess. i don't claim to have any inside information about that but it is in some ways puzzling in relation to the excellent use of that in 2008 so that is my hypothesis. >> there was a phrase back in the older days when some technological revolution or other was going on.
it was computers, personal computers. the phrase was garbage and karma garbage out. a reminder that medium is just a medium and this is a very slippery -- because you can use with handguns and you can use it with facebook. the point is that just the equipment of an entire generation of young people with instant telecommunication with each other around the world has no necessary social or political consequence. it seems to me. now, i happen to think that the maghreb e. revolutions are an interesting realization of this. it is too soon to know but my impression is that not only were the means there are but there was some framing idea or concept or value that was articulated by
a few people and grabbed onto by many others. freedom, democracy, votes, tyranny, some substantive idea that spread almost instantaneously and resulted in the most dramatic political direct action that we have seen maybe ever and certainly in a very long time. but i am getting at is that it seems to me that the idea needs to be there. this goes back to my question about, what is the state of the electorate so to speak? in other words if your generation has no clue about the nation they want to have, the nation they have had and how to get there, nothing will happen and that is i think another wave coming at obama coming forward and reframing the question and if he can command that framing, then this can really take off.
obama's work is that i think he is skeptical of the great admiration we have for great leaders and the expectation we have that the leader, in this case the president, will make the difference. and this is a feature of his sensibility that goes way back to his youth. that was i think one of the things that surprise me. this was a man who would just been elected president and i was going around asking people what they knew what he was like. just asking an open-ended question. described them as you knew him and i heard the same thing over and over again that when he would find himself in a group, rather than becoming the leader although by the end of whatever group it was, people knew that was the guy, but rather than telling him at the outset what he thought should have been his strategy was always to lie low for a while, to be relevantly
silent and then gradually over the course of weeks or months, depending on the organization, and this is true in college and graduate school and true of the of chicago, and the organizing world. a community organizer typically gather a group of this size and as the people in that world described to me, what most committee organizers do is let the conversation go on for 15 or 20 minutes and then they tell the group what they are going to do. what obama did, they said almost from the beginning was together ripped together and just listen and listen and listen and hear all sorts of comments from all sorts of people. and then gradually begin to say, did i understand correctly that what you said was and rephrase it, and then another person -- and slowly by letting the people. >> again draw together ideas that seemed completely like --
unlike each other. that is a very different style of leadership from going into the room and announcing what has to happen. i think that is who he is. i think he generally believes that there is something to be gained by hearing what other people think that is different from what will be gained if you, no matter how able you are, tell people what they should do. again this is a gamble he could lose. it could be that most of the american people will say, that is not who we elected president. we were not electing the chief professor. we were electing the chief executive and he better get out there and leave. my own sense is that when he sets that task for himself, he is pretty good at it. think of tucson. think of that speech which was his speech, a brilliant speech, but not on every occasion does he opts toward that style. so again, my guess is that when we go into the 2012 campaign we are going to see that leader
again. i think we saw that leader at the end of the health care fight. i think we saw that the end of the financial reform battle and i think from time to time, he has spoken but i think steve is right that there is a sense that you don't keep the intensity level at full all the way through. hugh picture moments, but part of what i tried to do in the book is to go through the speeches that we know he wrote and like every president he won't give so many speeches he can't write them all. if you look at those beaches there is a particular strategy that he tends to take and i think overall, it is his consistence with this commitment to the juxtaposition of different points of view and expectation that from that something productive will happen. it is a different model. >> something else right now? i have got one. let's look at something harder.
and this is kind of -- it will take me a minute. going back to pragmatism and to process oriented approach to leadership and governance. nothing is fixed. nothing is absolute. the constitution itself is a product of debate and discourse. it is the old living constitution concept updated by a new generation of scholars and you name it, it is a wonderful analysis of where this all comes from. okay, so madison leaves philadelphia and all is well and a lot of the people say wait a minute, there is something absolute. your friend tom wrote about it a few years back and they are called rights so are there or are there not fixed points in obama's political cosmos?
broadly speaking the question is where is he in your assessment on rights in general as an african-american, mixed race person, it got in there somewhere and now i am going to -- take that big one if you would like but now i'm going to point at a rather different way and ask about guantánamo, which to me is a bitterly disappointing turn of events. he may not be responsible at he is the chief executive and it raises this question that perhaps in a more pointed kind of way, because as i take the issue it is civic versus military trial. the protections of civil procedure, constitutional guarantees and are potentially arbitrary or at least liabilities to be accused under the uniform code of military. there may be writes on both sides but they are different kind of right and it is a very
convoluted question. hugh may not want to talk about it but that is my example. >> i am disappointed as you are with the failure to close guantánamo, but you will recall that for about six months they try to persuade new york city to hold the trial of khalid sheikh mohammed in new york city refused. including his democratic colleague chuck schumer and i guess this sort of shirtless response would be as soon as you can identify the locale where they can hold these trials i am sure they be happy to go ahead and get them started. so i don't know why he hasn't closed the base but i think that has something to do with the reasons why they haven't held the trials. in terms of the larger question of rights, this is why i framed it in terms of attention in his thought. steve and i have both been speaking as if everybody here has read everything william james and john do we have ever written -- it's a couple of
words about philosophical pragmatism. this is a movement that develops in the late 19th and early 20th century from the exasperation that some philosophers felt with the confidence that some other philosophers had that there were systems that would answer all the questions we have about issues in politics or issues of ethics. and they said, when you don't have certain answers, you should feel free to experiment and you should judge the consequences of your experiment. now that is not going to work in every case. mathematics works alright assuming that two and two are going to equal four but in many instances it is better to lay out a hypothesis, tested and perhaps recalculated if things don't work out. this is a way of thinking that becomes a tradition that runs through all of 20th century american thought and is revived in a powerful way during the years obama himself is being
educated and there are various reasons why one could identify him with this tradition of philosophical pragmatism. but in "the audacity of hope" he goes out of his way to point out that there have been times when, as he puts it, does it not been the pragmatist who has made things happen, and he reversed the civil rights movement as a moment in which americans simply said enough. we are not going to put up with this kind of treatment anymore and it was that insistence that led to the change. it wasn't a willingness to compromise. it was a denial of the acceptability of the other point of view. he also points to the struggle over slavery in the years leading up to the civil war and the points out that it was not the moderates who made things happen, who brought change. it was the zealots and any historians would agree with him that they were the ones who forced the issue, force lincoln
finally end the exigencies of war that make the emancipation proclamation necessary but shift lincoln from being a moderate to a more forceful anti-slavery advocate or at least opponent of the expansion of slavery. but after he has made that observation about the opposition to slavery, instead of patting himself on the back and saying, i took from a man of fierce principle when it comes to issues of right and wrong. instead he says, when i see the zealots in my own day, it makes me wonder whether 150 years from now we moderates will be seen as the cowards. what politician subjects his own perspective to that kind of critical scrutiny? it is an extraordinary moment in the book but again, nobody held a gun to his head and nobody forced him to take that step.
i think the reason he took it is that is the way he really believe. he always asked, how sure i am i and what basis am i sure? i think he is always willing to interrogate his firmest assumption. that is not to say that every assumption is without foundation. i think he is correct to say the civil rights movement depended upon people who are willing to take a stand. he is all basic correct about slavery, and so he is willing to say i'm a firm believer in democracy. i am a firm believer in equality. i'm a firm believer in rights. i don't think that i or my party have a monopoly on the way to get to the fulfillment of my democratic ideal or my ideal of equality or my ideal of doing this right. those are issues about which reasonable people may disagree on that i think he is both refreshing in the sense that he is willing to listen to those people that disagree with him
and it is also very unsettling to people like my friend, who think they really do know what the right answer is and the other people are crazy. and so when i write it byron way of someone who is a whole lot more tolerant than i am a peaceful who disagree with him the assumption is that i too don't have any firm beliefs. i have plenty of firm believes that wouldn't get me elected dog catcher but this is a man whose beliefs are always mediated by his awareness that principles change, perspectives very from one culture to another and from the beginning especially in his speeches on foreign policy, he has shown an awareness that americans have tended to act over the nation nations history as if we alone had a monopoly on truth and that when we exercise power it is unproblematic. so from the time that he accepted the nobel peace prize to the time that he gave the cairo address to the moment when
he celebrates the egyptian revolution, he is always aware that i'm a purse but if of the airport in particular, we are the crusaders, and we are as dangerous and untrustworthy as many americans consider many people in the islamic world to be. and that awareness of americans fell ability announced as often as it has been announced by barack obama something quite different for an american president. now there've been some american presidents on some occasions who have hinted in that direction but i think not quite as forthrightly as he has them on multiple occasions. and that of course infuriates many americans who do think that america has never made a mistake, but i think in the response, the international response both to the nobel prize address in the cairo address, you could hear the enthusiasm for a very different perspective
of an american president on america. now, as these cataclysmic changes of the last few months have unfolded, there are many people who are now very alarmed that america is now looking as if it might he in favor of change, but i think it is impossible for us really to know, as steve mentioned, how this is all going to turn out. so just to take one example that i'm sure is on all of your minds, do we get into libya or do we not get into libya? what does a leader do in that case? and i was curious to see what this first really crucial foreign-policy crisis would eventually in. waiting? for the arab league to make up its mind? waiting for the security council to make up its mind about what should happen?
and after those steps have been taken, a very tentative, willingness to participate in a multinational action, carefully defined, circumscribed to prevent the slaughter of civilians. with all sorts of hedging about what we are not trying to do. now that has led to a lot of criticism from the left and has led to a lot of criticism from the right. to me, the extraordinary thing is the extent to which this is perfectly consistent with what he wrote in his books and with what he has done so far in his presidency. i have no idea whether this is the right course of action. i don't know what the consequences are going to be but it does seem to me as though it is not something is just making up as he goes along. this is very much rooted in the person he is and it is they very careful and tentative commitment
that can't be withdrawn from if the consequences show that this was a mistake. this is not somebody who says, we are all in and we are never going to admit that this was a mistake is from his perspective that is a disastrous way to do either foreign-policy or domestic policy. the sensible thing to do is to take a step and see what happens. if you step off the cliff or half the sensible thing to do is to pull back rather than to keep going. >> one thought is that andrew basset came here and told us that the problem is that the entire regime, the entire american regime is simply captive to the military-industrial complex. there is no way to stop it, no way to put a brake on it except perhaps unless it is overextended, which it is. there's another focal pragmatic consideration, just how much
could we do literally with two other inherent wars. he is indeed trying to disengage from. so that that is not inconsistent necessarily. there's also a practical that may help him and it might give some some leverage actually the pentagon. one reflection about your last response, i will put it in the form of a question. >> do you hold with the common assessment that we are now more polarized politically as a country then we have been in the previous last year's? because if we are, very deeply polarized, then the parallel with lincoln becomes more and more apt and the perception of lincoln as a weak leader until very late in the game, and after the tragedy was over, may well be part of what is dogging obama
in his first term. the development, the wisdom and what it takes to actually take this down, the loneliness of that office still developing and him, as it did in lincoln. it took a while, she pointed out. so, it is obviously sort of speculative but i am wondering if you are willing to locate him that way. the parallels of lincoln mean a lot, but how bad is it to you think and how appropriate could a leader like this really be who could cut it one way and see if he can get people to really talk? that could lead us some way out of it we don't know. the process starts fine. on the other hand he may not be strong enough to hold it and you polarize even more. any thoughts? >> where more polarized than we were a couple of decades ago but
we are not at war. in one sense we are not at war. we are not in a civil war. we forget that we actually are in one more, perhaps one and a half wars and it affects most of us not at all, which is quite remarkable of the way in which the iraq war and the war in afghanistan have been fought. there has been no cost to any of us in the way those wars were five, for the first time in the history of american warfare. we pretended as if we could do this without anybody having to pay for it which i find deeply dishonest. but, compared with the civil war, i think it would be inappropriate for president obama to raise the rhetorical stakes to the level of its most for severus critics who tend to -- a civil war like that war.
i think there have been moments of equally intense partisanship and a number of times in american history including the 1790s, after the french revolution breaks out. the federalist in new england consider the jeffersonians to be traders because of their support of the french revolution and the jeffersonians are happy to repay the compliment and consider that the anglo selleck new englanders are not really americans because they don't see the french revolution of a continuation of our own so that bitterness in the 1790s and america's first newspapers is really quite breathtaking if you haven't seen it lately and the vilification of the opposition leaders is as bad as what we have got now, and it doesn't continue forever. and that has happened repeatedly in american history, so i don't see this is armageddon frankly. i really think that there is a machine out there designed to persuade us that it is, but in
fact what i think we are arguing about is the very serious problems faced by 20% of the american population and the unbelievable success enjoyed by 4% of the american population since 1980. now, for those people, things have changed dramatically. we have never had as great a distance from between the richest americans in the poorest americans as we have right now and then as a result of deliberate policies that were put in place in the 1980s up until today. now, most of the people in the middle of that spectrum have not seen their real earning power changed since the late 1970s. that is the first time in american history that has been true, that the average buying power of the average american has not increased. the buying power of those people at the top has increased astronomically in an
unprecedented way in american history. but that is a serious problem from my point of view but it is not war. and so what is the appropriate level of critical analysis to bring to the attention of the american people that's very serious change? when barack obama tried that in the campaign in his brief exchange with joe the plumber, he was hamburg as a socialist. what he was calling for was a more steeply graduated income tax of the sort that we had from the mid-1930s until the 1980s, it period of the greatest economic growth in american history, the. with the steepest income grades and this deepest growth of american history. the dogma that high income taxes are inconsistent with economic growth lies in the face of all the evidence we have and yet it
continues to be made as if it is self-evident. in "the audacity of hope" he offers a very sophisticated and also stuff that increasing inequality. explains the reasons for it. he has a very clear argument about how we should address it. he has not done in his first two years as president what many of us who read that passage expected him to do. now, whether he could have been a house of representatives with 54 blue dog democrats got more progressive legislation through in the first two years as a question that i can answer. i assume he did the math that is figured out that he couldn't. some people who are insiders in washington in a way that i never even aspire to be claim that there are plans under foot or underway now to redo the tax code completely, the individual tax code, the corporate tax code so that you could have a more
what some of us would call equitable tax system in which the people who benefit the most from this arrangement pay the most in a way that is not happening now when obama himself points out in the audacity of hope wayne warren buffett points out that his secretary pays more of her income in taxes than he does, we have a serious problem of equity. obama simply has to make the point. but the consequence of those observations is that he suggest we need to address this problem of inequality. my hope is that if he is elected to a second term and if he is elected with a sufficiently friendly congress, that this rethinking of the tax code will move in that direction of a more equitable distribution of wealth. but, i was inspired by his account of that in the audacity of hope. i have been less convinced by
his relative inattention to that question since he was elected. speeds of the definition of the level of polarization really is key. if you take it as rhetorical it is one thing. if you take it as economic class, it is another. if you take it as religious, you have a different number. there you have 35% of the american people saying they have had a direct personal experience with the divine. that is a lot more than 18. and if you could harness that as george w. bush did, you have a very formidable poet akel force. religion, i guess the last thing i want to ask you about and that maybe we will have time for another question, i know it is a very big issue with obama but i'm thinking more about any thoughts you have on the religious element in the
polarization rather than in his own character. he is an adult convert as you point out to a liberal protestant. his intellectual furnishing, and it intensifies and binds them together and you are telling. but, part of my question about polarization in the kind of leadership that a pragmatic president can provide comes back yet again to the nonnegotiable is the of certain fixed truths on the part of more than a fifth or so of the people. you write at a number of different points not only about obama's personal religion but divide in all of that. so i'm wondering if you have a characterization? do you see that is somehow softening? do you think this team has gone
out of it? do you think religion and religious culture wars are still a main driver in the situation we are and? will we pass that somewhere else? where is the religion factor? >> a very good question and it is a difficult question to her dress in relation to obama. those of you who have read his books know the account of his conversion which i think as a student of william james could come right out of his experience. it is striking the extent to which they experience a being in this conch vacation of jeremiah wright made him aware of something he is simply not been aware of before and it gave him i think that personal experience that you are talking about so it is possible to have that personal experience of the divine and the liberal democrats as well as a conservative republican. that 35% doesn't necessarily track on a particular kind of voting. but there is a difference between his liberal protestantism as you characterize it. jeremiah wright is a network of
the church of christ so it is at the heart of this protestant movement that gathers momentum through the 19th century as part of the social gospel in the early 20th century and omission that there is something about being a serious christian that could lead one to an engagement with one's brethren. and that is a vision that obama sees as consistent with his view of an egalitarian democratic project in america. but what is distinctive about it and it is helpful steve made the point about the difference between the protestant view and the fundamentalist view is that this liberal protestantism as it emerges right into a number of thinkers in the late 19th century is continuous with a very ancient tradition of skepticism which is rooted in the gospels really and is brought to life from time to
time in the last two millennia, but is very much out of fashion with many americans today and it is the notion that the ideals of christianity are very attractive but we don't really know exactly how to translate them into particular problems are particular to limit that we face in our own lives. and it is a quest, a quest rather than a question of following particular rules or laws that are laid down in the definite form. now, there are many distinguished adherents to this tradition of christian skepticism and obama fits very neatly within it, but it is tradition that many evangelical christians in particular did not feel themselves to be part of. many roman catholics don't feel themselves to be part of, so what do you do in that case? in one of the speeches that obama has given, he invokes an
idea of the american policy for john rawls and in overlapping consensus that you can have a culture in which people have wildly different points of view and wildly different convictions, fervent convictions which you have to try to find the point at which the different purpose -- perspectives overlap with each other and that is what belongs in the public sphere. that is where you have your debates about what we can do is a culture. in your private lives you may have very different convictions but when you come to the public sphere you have to make arguments. you have to persuade the people with whom you disagree. you cannot simply tell them what to do because their convictions if they are different from yours, are just as valuable as yours and many people don't share that sense of this as a project that we all are part of. for some people i am right, you are wrong. if you agree with me you get to participate in if you disagree with me, i'm sorry you have to leave.
that is not the view of american democracy that obama hasn't he knows that view has been problematic itself. it has had its costs but it is a different vision from that vision that has a particular way of thinking as authentically american and all in all other ways of thinking as somehow it alien to america. so, this is a way of thinking about religion that use it as something is something that we can disagree about without seeing each other as traitors. it is rooted in the legislation that thomas jefferson and james madison together get through the virginia legislature and then madison wants to see put in the constitution that separates church and state. it is often thought by secular americans that the purpose of that legislation was to get religion out of government. the purpose of that legislation was to get government out of religion. both madison and jefferson themselves saw that the danger came when a particular religious
denomination had the state apparatus on its side, because then it could compel forms of action that many people found of boards. and so both of them thought the only safe way to proceed was to keep those spheres separate, not so that religion would die but so that a 480 of might survive. so that vision of are listed denomination is a vision that is as old as america and as old as the united states of america and it is a provision that obama himself has. >> lets hope the better angels of our nature will prevail, and they think on that metaphysical and wise note, we will and and please join me in thanking our guests james kloppenberg for a wonderful session. [applause]
>> this event was hosted by the massachusetts historical society in boston. for more information visit mash his.org. >> this is where it really gets interesting. one of the individuals who was enslaved by washington was my hero of life. she was a young woman, probably early to mid 20s, who was mostly a slave to martha washington. she helped to dress her, she did cooking, household, kind of the works. she found out somewhere in 1795, 1796 that martha washington was planning to give her away as a gift for a wedding of one of her relatives. now, what this meant was that
whatever promise the washington ted made to their slave, that is some point you will be free when we die was going to be out the door. and so she made her plans to get out the door. and so one night, in the spring of 1796 while the washington's were in their living room having dinner, she went out the door. and you could see them calling her. where is she out? she was gone. she had made contact with the black community there and she took her clothes and other personal possessions and then she vanished. now, as it turned out, accidentally she was discovered to be in new hampshire. the washington's found out through complete accident. so they decided to go after her, because even though as president of the united states and someone who has declared himself as
antislavery, you would have thought he would have said, she is gone, i am representing the country, let it go. they wouldn't let it go. so they went after her. initially they sent an envoy. they were embarrassed, so they sent an envoy to meet with her and sit down and say, if you come back, then we will work it out, all is forgiven and eventually we will let you be free. she says well, i am free now. and so i don't really see the point of this discussion. i am not going back. so that program they'll. within washington decided well, we would send the slave catchers after her and we will have my nephew go and pick out a way to kidnap her and bring her back her go but she was warned, and so she was able to get away and washington never got her back.
she never went back into slavery ended fact she lived to be very old. i think well into her 80s. she learned to read and she became active in her community and even though she never went back into slavery, all the rest of her life she was basically free, given the laws of the country at the time. now think about it, this is a young woman who basically challenges the most powerful person in the country. this is not just some small farmer. this is the president of the united states with all the military and all the political power in the country at his beck and call, but she is so driven by her own desire for freedom, not to mention she writes about or talks about the inspiration from the haitian revolution which it happened in the early 1790s and whether you were literate or not, it every single slave in the country knew about the haitian revolution. she was also fueled by the american revolution, so think
about it. the people that were enslaved to jefferson and these other presidents, they were there and every moment when the discussions in the debate about american did not proceed or american freedom, the principles of the country were happening. they had more than a year and more of an axis to those debates and discussions than any of the journalists, any of the scholars come any of the people who are writing about government at the time. so how could they not he influenced? how could they not understand these contradictions? much more profoundly than anybody else out there. now, both of them had the opportunity to escape and get away, but she was one of the people who said i will risk it all. if she got caught in washington want to punish her and send her down to mississippi or somewhere could have been really really horrible. she said, i've got to go. >> go watch this and other programs on line a booktv.org.
>> up next on booktv, rebecca tinsley talks about her novel, "when the stars fall to earth" about five children who survived the genocide in darfur. the novel is based on her experiences in sudan and interview she conducted with survivors of the genocide. it is a little more than an hour. [applause] >> first of all thank you very much to the american bar association for so kindly providing a venue today. i would also like to thank mike meyer and -- from the darfur interfaith network for making this possible and beth grossman. i know there are some sudan experts here. please bear with me if i start telling you things you already know but those lovely people at c-span are here to outcast this
and therefore think it is our duty to use this opportunity to get across the message about the serial genocides that have been going on in sudan, so forgive me if i am telling you things that you already know. i know there are people in this room who think it is perfectly appropriate as a topic of conversation to talk about genocide but believe it or not not everybody feels the way we do about that. i am going to talk to about what you about what is happening in abyei. over the weekend you probably saw the sudanese armed forces occupied the region of abyei. they brought in 5000 troops, an unknown number of tanks. they have then basically carpet bombing the city of abyei since the 19th of may. 20,000 people of had to flee for their lives. i have been getting e-mails from someone we