We’ve discussed Obama’s connections to Reinhold Niebuhr here (Paul Murphy post), here (Andrew Hartman post), here (Hartman again), and here (David Sehat). Since we’ve left the discussion alone for almost two years, I thought I’d pick it up again at the instigation of this long CNN feature, titled: “How Obama’s favorite theologian shaped his first year in office” and authored by John Blake. Questions:
1. Do we agree with the points of the feature?
2. Is Niebuhr Obama’s favorite philosopher, theologian, or both? The article’s title uses the term “theologian,” but the text cites a “widely cited New York Times column” where “President Obama called Niebuhr his ‘favorite philosopher.’ ” We’ve talked about a Dionne citation/column here (via TNR, although I couldn’t find the exact Dionne piece in TNR?). But CNN is apparently referring to an earlier piece by David Brooks who they cite later in the column (though he’s not explicitly attached to the prior NYT reference). Anyway, I wonder which of the specialties of knowledge precisely fits Obama’s view of Niebuhr.
As a former Missourian, I can’t resist noting the last section of the CNN piece in relation to Missouri’s former three-term senator, John Danforth. Here’s the excerpt:
“Niebuhr would have loved that [Oslo] speech,” says John Danforth, an Episcopal priest and a former Republican senator who also admires Niebuhr.
“I was very impressed with that speech,” Danforth says. “He said you need to deal with terrorists in a very hard-nosed, pragmatic way but hold to American standards.”
Yet Danforth says there are critical differences between Obama and Niebuhr.
“I see in Obama’s approach to politics, which is surprisingly partisan and ideological, a hubris that is not Niebuhrian,” says Danforth, who is also a partner at the Bryan Cave law firm in St. Louis, Missouri.
But how true, or non-ideological, is that last statement? When Danforth makes those claims, which hat is he wearing: Episcopal priest? Former Republican? Bryan Cave law firm partner (a firm that specializes in corporate transactions)? Global Leadership Foundation member? Or just that of a regular concerned citizen?
BTW: Avoid the 120-plus CNN comments if you can. They’re depressing in their obtuseness. – TL