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Escape from Utopia

by Ramesh Ponnuru

I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, by Charles R. Kesler (HarperCollins, 304 pp., $25.99)

Utopian rhetoric is so commonplace in our political life that we scarcely question or even notice it. Part of Charles Kesler’s achievement in I Am the Change is to help us see that familiar utopianism in all its strangeness.

Consider a commencement address by newly elected senator Barack Obama at Knox College in 2005. “So let’s dream,” said our future president. Make sure that college is “affordable for everyone who wants to go,” among other things, and “that old Maytag plant could re-open its doors as an Ethanol refinery that turned corn into fuel. Down the street, a biotechnology research lab could open up on the cusp of discovering a cure for cancer.” How did we reach the point where a politician could, as Kesler writes, “dangle before the citizens of Galesburg, Illinois, home of Knox College, the prospect not merely of a biotech research lab opening up down the street, but one that is on the verge of curing cancer”?

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