American political identity has at times seemed woefully fragmented. The twenty-first century is becoming a time during which the schisms and chasms in American society are coming to the fore, bubbling to the surface. Although the election of 2000 brought to light the divisions between Red states and Blue states, between Red America and Blue America, such divisions existed well before George W. Bush came onto the political stage. These political divisions in American society are sometimes framed overly simplistically in terms of "liberal" or "conservative." Yet these two terms, liberal and conservative, cannot begin to encompass the range of political values and philosophies embedded within the diverse American society. American political philosophy is best understood not as a duality but as a continuum. On the very left there are but a few representatives; a fear of communism has etched itself too deeply in the American soul to warrant much from the far end of the liberal spectrum. On the right exist conservatives that could be defined easily as fascists. Their voices occasionally punctuate the mainstream media, but extreme right-wingers are certainly in the minority. Ultimately, resistance, change, and diversity characterize American political identity: all ultimately colliding in a heterogeneous blend of ideas with liberty, freedom, and justice at their core.
The current political character of America is embodied in the current president of the United States: Barack Obama. Having won the Nobel Prize for peace barely before his presidency began, Barack Obama has been an Atlas figure for America. He has borne upon his shoulders the weight of many disparate groups of people fighting for what can be considered a common cause. Barack Obama does symbolize all that America is, whether the fascist conservatives believe it or not. A multiethnic, multiracial, worldly, well-educated, capitalist, opportunistic, and ultimately centrist politician, Barack Obama accomplishes the primary goal of caulking the fissures in American society. In his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address, in which he introduced John Kerry as the official DNC party presidential nominee, Barack Obama stated, "there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America." The then senatorial candidate went on to say, "The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too…We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states."
Obama's speech highlights the core nature of American political philosophy as being inherently heterogeneous and continually changing. American political identity cannot be pigeonholed into neat categories like "liberal," "conservative," "Red," or "Blue." The search for common ground might occasionally come up empty but as Brooks states, "there is no fundamental conflict" in the United States…There may be cracks but there is no chasm," (65). Most Americans are always dedicated to core principles of liberty, freedom, and justice.
The character of American political life is not always admirable or attractive. As Will points out, the war on drugs is a prime example of the failure of American politics to address the realities of social life. Slavery is the biggest stain on the American political consciousness, but millions of Americans are still systematically disenfranchised due to lack of access to financial and/or cultural capital. Decades before the Civil Rights movement, philosophers like W.E.B. DuBois were introducing -- or re-introducing -- the concept of genuine political empowerment and social equity into the American consciousness. And yet the American educational system has been so dominated by white supremacists that DuBois has been effective erased from the history textbooks. Favoritism is granted to his then-rival George Washington Carver: in part because the latter has a name friendly to the myth of the founding of the nation but also because Carver conformed to the social norms and hierarchies that characterized American society until recently. Bell Hooks points out how systems of power in the United States are direct reflections of race, glass, and gender. The real issues that shape American political identity are embedded in resistance, protest, and change. Even the stories that have become trite such as the Boston Tea Party have become emblematic of the American political experience. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself refers to the Boston Tea Party in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. "To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience."
Barack Obama's political philosophy is hard to pin down based on his track record as president. This is because the president of the United States is not a dictator but a democratic leader. If Obama ran the country like a dictator, it is possible that Guantanamo Bay might have already been shut down, or that the health care bill would have been more robust than it ended up being in the end. Based on Obama's work as a community organizer in urban Chicago, the president has a liberal heart to his political philosophy. It can be said that his ontological outlook is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment philosophers for, as Kristol points out in "Will Obama Save Liberalism?" Obama quoted only once in his inaugural address. That quote was from Thomas Paine. Obama's political philosophy assumes that truly all men and women are created equal: illustrated by his sometimes frustrating habit of reaching out to conservatives instead of passing bills that appeal to his primary constituency in Blue America. Obama's habit of reaching across the aisle is a conciliatory gesture that illustrates his political ontology: which is both individualistic and universal. For example, Barack Obama has admitted to his own homophobia without going so far as to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry. "The president has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny," ("Obama administration won't oppose same-sex marriage"). If President Obama did believe that gays and lesbians do not enjoy the same rights and freedoms as heterosexual Americans, then his political ontology would not be universalist; but more elitist in nature, which it is not.
The epistemological framework that Barack Obama uses to base his political philosophy is pragmatic and rooted in the Constitution. For example, Obama's opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act is based not on personal opinion and certainly not on religion but on the Constitutional rights of all Americans. The American constitution upholds the rights of all citizens to enjoy equal access to legal protections, including the legal protections afforded by the social institution of marriage. For centuries, the white hegemony in the United States managed to frame non-whites and non-males as non-persons. It took several centuries to remedy most gender and racial inequity in the United States but ultimately the cancer of hypocrisy was combatted by systematic use of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience. The right to protest the government is a hallmark of American political practice. As Dr. Martin Luther King stated in his Letter from Birmingham jail: "we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily." The privileged groups have clung to their positions of power vehemently and to the point of using physical violence to suppress peaceful protesters. Such behavior does not negate the essentially liberal heart of American political philosophy.
As Starr points out, the goal of real liberalism is "to build a free, fair, and prosperous society" by using " practical politics," (60). President Obama uses practical politics, including appeasement of political enemies. Hartz also notes that liberalism and Americanism are interchangeable terms, no matter what the conservatives say. "The American community is a liberal community," (Hartz 3). Conservatism is by definition characterized by resistance to change. If there is anything that unites all Americans, then it is the commitment to positive change and social progress. Conservatism has failed America. For the most part, "conservative political leadership has failed to confront, and in critical respects has contributed to, some of our most serious long-term problems" including income disparity, threats to the environment, and anti-American sentiment worldwide (Starr 60).
The most frightening manifestation of conservatism is the trend towards religiosity, a political philosophy that purposefully excludes non-religious discourse as being anti-American. American political philosophy has always been too deeply committed to liberty to be concerned with marrying religion and politics. Kristol, who offers a passionate defense of conservatism, admits that Obama should bring real liberalism back into the political discourse of America. Liberalism, such as that expressed under FDR, was "a fighting faith, unapologetically patriotic and strong in the defense of liberty," (Kristol). In his speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Barack Obama stated, "we worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around…