Barack Obama, historian and Hamiltonian

He thinks historically rather than legally, and he identifies with Hamilton rather than Jefferson. Those are two fairly unusual features to find in a Democratic office-seeker.

Putting the substance aside for one moment, Obama’s Cooper Union speech on the economy illustrates two points about his thinking that haven’t been widely remarked on:

1. When he considers issues he tends to start out by thinking historically, and by starting with the period around the framing of the Constitution. This is a very unusual impulse among American office-seekers.

2. He identifies strongly with Hamilton as against Jefferson. In particular, he uses Hamiltonian interventionism to demonstrate that laisser-faire was not among the founding doctrines of the nation. Since Jefferson remains among the household idols of the Democratic Party, that’s a fairly bold thing to do.

The same themes come through in The Audacity of Hope.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: