Let the Sunstein In

FDRWatershed election presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt do not simply happen on election day. The significance of the election is played out in speeches that illuminate and in policy that transforms. Whether President Obama is a critical election president is yet to be determined, but his references to the Declaration and the Constitution in his second inaugural address make clear his ambition to change our understanding of who we are as a people.

Does it come as a surprise that we have been living under a new Constitution anyway, a “Second Bill of Rights” that has devoured the original document? According to Harvard Law professor and former high-ranking Obama Administration official Cass Sunstein, it’s like discovering we’ve been speaking prose all our lives. In a recent op-ed Sunstein accurately observes that President Obama’s Second Inaugural (not to mention his major actions) faithfully follows Franklin Roosevelt, who first called for a “Second Bill of Rights” in his 1944 State of the Union Address.

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Is This Progressivism’s Last Gasp?

Some conservative critics of Barack Obama dismiss him as an ineffective, confused president–no surprise, in their view, since his thin résumé showed from the beginning that he was unqualified for the job. Others, much farther to the right, circulate spooky theories about Obama: that he’s a secret Muslim, a friend to terrorists, an un-American, foreign-born Other holding his office illegally. In his important new book, I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, Charles Kesler provides a conservative reading of the Obama presidency that is neither dismissive nor conspiratorial. Instead, he sees Obama as the latest presidential exemplar of a liberal political tradition that for a century has worked to transform the American constitutional order in ways that would make it unrecognizable to the Founding Fathers. And Obama knows what he is doing, Kesler believes. The president, he warns, “is playing a long, high-stakes game, and it’s not at all clear he’s losing.”

 

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