BOOK REVIEW: 'I Am the Change': Deciphering the Riddle That Is Barack Obama

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

BOOK REVIEW: 'I Am the Change': Deciphering the Riddle That Is Barack Obama
"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest." -- Winston Churchill, in a radio broadcast in October 1939

Conservatives and liberals alike continue to be puzzled by President Barack Obama, writes Charles R. Kesler in "I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism" (Broadside Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 304 pages, notes, index, $25.99). Kesler is that rara avis, a conservative academic in California of all places, but he doesn't demonize Obama the way so many conservatives do. Kesler is not a "Birther" nor does he consider Obama to be a socialist, secret or otherwise.


Kesler argues that the disappointed liberals who were such enthusiastic Obamamaniacs in 2008 don't appreciate the scope of the president's ambition or the long-term stakes for which he is playing. I'm sure Obama would laugh at my choice of an epigraph, seeing as how he returned the bust of Winston Churchill that was in Bush 43's Oval Office. It now resides in the British Embassy in Washington.


In Dinesh D''Souza's "Obama's America" that I reviewed in August (link: the conservative D'Souza says the President returned the bust because he detests the colonialist Englishman. In this respect, he's following in the footsteps of his absent father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr. D'Souza also discusses the influence of Woodrow Wilson on Obama's view of the constitution -- a subject that Kesler deals with in great detail.


I found it ironic in the extreme that our first African-American president should be such an admirer of Woodrow Wilson, a racist who resegregated the District of Columbia and fired most of the black postmasters, appointed by Republican presidents like William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt -- as well as screening D.W. Gritffith's racist movie "The Birth of a Nation" in the White House. For those who laugh at the idea of a black Republican, consider that a century ago, when Wilson was elected to his first term over both Roosevelt and Taft, most African Americans were supporters of the party of Lincoln over the Democratic Party, the party of the KKK.


Charles R. Kesler
Charles R. Kesler

The explanation for Obama's admiration of Wilson as a role model is simple, once you unwrap the riddle inside the mystery inside the enigma: Woodrow Wilson was the man who crafted the liberal, post Civil War Democratic Party.


A century ago, Wilson was a Progressive, but one who believed in the concept of the "living constitution" -- a view he shares with Obama. "He [Wilson] was the first president to criticize the Constitution, to call it time-bound and incapable of meeting modern problems... " Kesler writes, adding that Wilson applied the concept of the "living" Constitution "not merely to the judiciary but to the whole political system, and to the executive more than the other branches."


Kesler: "Like Obama, Wilson had no difficulty seeing himself as the responsible grown-up in the room, as government as the wise father or at least the ever-present nanny, despite his insistence that 'free men need no guardians.'"


Wilson was an academic before he became first the governor of New Jersey and president in 1912, in fact he's still our only president with an earned Ph.D. (from Johns Hopkins). Not surprisingly to me, Obama also was a "senior lecturer" and later professor, teaching law for 12 years at the University of Chicago Law School. I checked this out on the Internet and found this statement from the university:


UC Law School statement: The Law School has received many media requests about Barack Obama, especially about his status as "Senior Lecturer." From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year. Senior Lecturers are considered to be members of the Law School faculty and are regarded as professors, although not full-time or tenure-track. The title of Senior Lecturer is distinct from the title of Lecturer, which signifies adjunct status. Like Obama, each of the Law School’s Senior Lecturers have high-demand careers in politics or public service, which prevent full-time teaching. Several times during his 12 years as a professor in the Law School, Obama was invited to join the faculty in a full-time tenure-track position, but he declined.

Kesler also examines at great length the influence of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson on Obama. In 1944 FDR proposed universal health care and in 1965 LBJ secured passage of Medicare. Kesler says he probably could have had Congress adopt universal health care, too, but Vietnam, his downfall put paid to this. The links to Obamacare are obvious, once you know where to look.



Kesler, the rare conservative who takes Obama seriously as a political thinker, views him as a gifted and highly intelligent progressive who is attempting to become the greatest president in the history of modern liberalism. Intent on reinvigorating the liberal faith, But Kesler says Obama nonetheless fails to understand its fatal contradictions — a shortsightedness that may prove to be liberalism's undoing.

Will Obama save liberalism and become its fourth great incarnation, following Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson? Or will he be derailed by his very successes? These are the questions at the heart of Kesler's thoughtful and illuminating book, a book both liberals and conservatives should study to learn what makes Obama tick.

About the Author

Charles R. Kesler is the Dengler-Dykema Distinguished Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College, and the editor of the Claremont Review of Books. He is a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, and coeditor, with William F. Buckley, Jr., of "Keeping the Tablets: Modern American Conservative Thought."

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