"O’Brien is right that Obama represents an American political tradition, though there’s no need to go back to seventeenth-century Rotterdam to find it. The focus on democratic process, reform, and an ideal of deliberative democracy has been shared by many of the less successful Democratic candidates (and a few Republicans, like Representative John Anderson in 1980) since the 1950s. It’s the tradition of what historian Sean Wilentz called the 'beautiful losers,' beginning with Adlai Stevenson, and journalist Ron Brownstein called 'wine track' candidates (people who talk about 'new politics') as opposed to the more electable 'beer track' candidates like Bill Clinton (who focus more on basic economics than on the nature of politics). Obama’s passion has always seemed to be more for a richer and more collaborative form of politics than for any particular vision of economic justice.
"Obama’s presidency has been the first real test of a politics focused on reform and democratic participation rather than traditional bipartisan bargaining—and it has failed. Over the last four years, American politics split sharply into the two primary traditions: the first a sort of hyper-Lockeanism represented not just by the Tea Party but even by Mitt Romney’s division of the country into 'makers and takers,' the second a demand—driven by circumstances and crisis—for a much more active, expansive government role in the economy. Economic issues, once a natural zone of compromise, began to seem more like social issues, matters of irreconcilable absolutes. There wasn’t much room in the middle, and for a period, Obama’s discursive strategy seemed wholly irrelevant."
Mark Schmitt in the Washington Monthly reviews Ruth O’Brien's Out of Many, One: Obama and the Third American Political Tradition.