President Obama has been intellectually influenced by contemporary philosophers such as John Rawls and Hilary Putnam. He regularly reads his critics articles and is continually influenced by his family, especially his wife Michelle. Obama's time in Chicago and Hawaii have shaped his ideologies as well.
Chicago is not Obama’s home town, but it’s where he chose to forge his identity. Several weeks ago, he moved many of the Democratic National Committee’s operations from Washington to Chicago, making the city the unofficial capital of the Democratic Party; his campaign headquarters are in an office building in the Loop, Chicago’s downtown business district. But Chicago, with its reputation as a center of vicious and corrupt politics, may also be the place that Obama needs to leave behind.
“Gerry Kellman was crucial to Obama’s political evolution, his first Chicago mentor when he arrived from New York,” said David Maraniss, a journalist-author at work on an Obama biography following critical successes on Bill Clinton, Vince Lombardi, the Vietnam War and the 1960 Rome Olympics. “He helped teach Obama how to listen to people, how to make sense of their lives, how to find commonality in a seemingly disparate group, and — most important — he began the reshaping of an idealistic and somewhat naïve young man into a political realist.”
"No place else could have provided me with the environment, the climate, in which I could not only grow but also get a sense of being loved," he said. "There is no doubt that the residue of Hawaii will always stay with me, and that it is a part of my core, and that what's best in me, and what's best in my message, is consistent with the tradition of Hawaii."
"There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we're talking about their friends and their parents, and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently. It doesn't make sense to them and frankly, that's the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective," Obama said.
He has a wife who speaks her mind, and Michelle Obama has far more interaction with everyday Americans, especially military families. The first lady, a senior adviser said, is "his sounding board, his critic, his talk-things-through person, but it's a very private thing." Obama leans on the trusted Chicago hands he has known for years -- Axelrod, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett in particular.
A president who persists in seeking his own information, beyond what is offered to him. His lawyerly and orderly reliance on facts and data often has created an impression that Obama is cool and detached. It is an image his advisers and friends reject. Instead, they paint a more nuanced and at times blurred portrait of a president who is deeply moved by the struggles of average citizens who stand up at town hall meetings or write thousands of letters to the White House -- 10 of which he reads each day.
Obama struggled to combine his intellectual passions with his moral crusade in the service of the disadvantaged. Obama thought he could resolve that dilemma in post-graduate law. Lawrence Tribe, Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard explains: "When we talked about his reasons for coming to law school and for learning the operations of the law, it had very much to do with empowering the worst-off. The rule of law is, I think in his mind, opposed to the law of the powerful.”
Obama’s writings make clear that he distrusts dogmas – those of the radical left as well as the radical right – because he believes in experimentation and the critical assessment of results.
Mr. Kloppenberg compiled a long list of people who he said helped shape Mr. Obama’s thinking and writing, including Weber and Nietzsche, Thoreau and Emerson, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. Contemporary scholars like the historian Gordon Wood, the philosophers John Rawls and Hilary Putnam, the anthropologist Clifford Geertz and the legal theorists Martha Minow and Cass Sunstein (who is now working at the White House) also have a place.
In the professor’s analysis the president’s worldview is the product of the country’s long history of extending democracy to disenfranchised groups, as well as the specific ideological upheavals that struck campuses in the 1980s and 1990s. He mentions, for example, that Mr. Obama was at Harvard during “the greatest intellectual ferment in law schools in the 20th century,” when competing theories about race, feminism, realism and constitutional original intent were all battling for ground.