In The New Republic, Franklin Foer and Noam Scheiber attempt to make sense of Obama’s governing philosophy. In short, they believe that Obama is trying to find a compromise between traditional and more recent Democratic principles:
Obama has set out to synthesize the New Democratic faith in the utility of markets with the Old Democratic emphasis on reducing inequality. In Obama's state, government never supplants the market or stifles its inner workings--the old forms of statism that didn't wash economically, and certainly not politically. But government does aggressively prod markets--by planting incentives, by stirring new competition--to achieve the results he prefers.
It’s fascinating to see Obama stake out an ideological position, even if he’s been notoriously reluctant to portray himself as an ideologue. One reason that he has been popular with conservative (and I don’t mean GOP) pundits like Andrew Sullivan is that he embraces a philosophy that conservatives find appealing: maximizing individual liberty by freeing up markets, cutting taxes, and by making a better, more efficient government.
Foer and Scheiber describe this philosophy as having government “steer, not row” social interactions. And really, it makes a lot of sense. No one wants the government writing contracts between Business A and its employees. But we also don’t want Business A to take advantage of its employees. So why not set up government incentives like tax breaks and research grants that Business A can win if it treats its employees decently?
It’s an interesting take, and one that’s probably worth hashing out at greater length in the future.