This CNN article discusses President Obama’s comments about Niebuhr as his favorite philosopher. I think it’s an interesting article and it’s nice to bring a little more attention to 20th century theologians (and I also like Niebuhr). I think many of Obama’s speeches manifest the meditation and self-awareness of an experienced leader, and I like that about him. However, I don’t think Obama is a Niebuhr scholar (I could be wrong), and I think trying to tie the following comments about Niebuhr’s philosophy to Obama’s policy-making is a tad idealistic:
“He thought that sometimes getting your hands dirty with self-interested folks is the only way to make progress,” Crouter says. “If you don’t believe the Kingdom of God is just around the corner, the best you can sometimes do is take baby steps toward justice.”
To put it another more hyperbolic way, Obama is like Niebuhr in that he’s an idealist who is driven by pure altruism but is kept from saving the planet only by all the other self-interested people in the US government (those self-interested people primarily being Republicans, it seems, based on his “buzz saw” comments).