Abstract

Barack Obama's "A More Perfect Union" speech, delivered during the 2008 presidential campaign in response to controversy surrounding Reverend Jeremiah Wright's sermons, responds to a split and often conflicting need both to reassure voters and to challenge conventional notions of identity. In doing so, the language of the speech simultaneously deploys and undermines the liberal models of subjectivity to which we are accustomed in American political rhetoric. While the resulting aporia have been read by some as throwing subjects (like Reverend Wright) "under the bus," they can also be understood as enactments of ethical subjectivity, especially in the terms of Emmanuel Levinas's thought. The article suggests that Obama's speech can serve as a study in the uneasy and generative coexistence of Levinasian ethics and liberal political thought, one that reveals liberalism's incongruities and asks listeners to imagine social relations otherwise.

Additional Information

ISSN
1053-1920
Launched on MUSE
2011-12-09
Open Access
No
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