CRB: The Obama transformation…

The new (Summer) issue of the Claremont Review of Books is in the mail today. Subscribe here for the heavily subsidized price of $19.95 and get online access thrown in for free. Weighing in at 102 pages, the new issue is full of good stuff including essays by William Voegeli and Peter Wood as well as scintillating reviews by Benjamin Balint, Christopher Caldwell, James Ceaser, Christopher DeMuth, Charles Murray and many others. The editors have let me select three pieces to preview for Power Line readers; I have chosen them with an eye to emphasizing the diversity of the pleasures on display.

Certainly the most striking piece in the issue is Charles Kesler’s long essay “The Obama transformation versus the Reagan revolution.” Charles is the learned editor of the CRB, the Dengler-Dykema Distinguished Professor of Government at Claremont-McKenna College, and the author of I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Future of Liberalism.

Charles’s essay opens on a characteristically witty note:

The good news is a weary country can begin to focus on the president who will succeed Barack Obama. The bad news is President Obama’s legacy will not be retired so easily.

He intended to be a president who made a big difference. “Let us transform this nation,” he demanded in 2007. “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” he proclaimed as Election Day approached in 2008. With a year and a half to go, Obama knows (he admitted as much to the New Yorker, his favorite confessional) that a fundamental transformation will not happen on his watch. But he remains hopeful that it is underway and will continue long after his presidency. After all, look at what he has already accomplished. He revived liberalism from its Clintonite doldrums, promoted a generation of ambitious apparatchiks to high judicial and administrative office (we’ll be hearing from them again), and spurred the national conversation as far to the left as he could on almost every issue, from income redistribution to gender reassignment, from local policing to global climate change. His legislative breakthroughs came early in his first term; it’s too soon to say they will endure. But if the Affordable Care Act survives—which is better than one can predict for many of its patients—“transformation” may yet be the right word to describe the long-term effects of his presidency.

Granted, it wasn’t a rousing electoral success. Though he won a comfortable reelection, his party suffered a shocking collapse. After six years of his leadership, the Democrats have fewer congressmen, U.S. senators, governors, and state legislative chambers than at any time since the 1920s. For someone who doesn’t believe in turning back the clock, Obama certainly has done a good job of it. Democratic legislators might be forgiven for thinking they’d suffered a reverse Rip Van Winkle, falling asleep in the Age of Obama and waking up in the Age of Calvin Coolidge.

Somewhat to my surprise, after this opening, Charles proceeds to explore the limits of Reaganism and the challenge before us to sharpen the aim of our conservatism. It is necessary reading.