Every election is said to be the most important, but 2012 certainly will be one in which the outcome could significantly shift American economic and social policy, from government intrusion into the private economic and moral lives of citizens to the composition of the Supreme Court for the next two decades, and much more. A number of books have come out in 2012 to give a glimpse into the past actions, influences, and possible future agenda of Barack Obama.

The Associated Press recently offered a long feature examining who is the “real Obama” which even after four years in the White House is not completely answerable. To conservatives, the President is a raving socialist, who either has already demonstrated his radical tendencies or is salivating for a second term to unleash his real agenda. To those on the Left, he is a compromising centrist who has abandoned his progressive vision articulated throughout the 2008 presidential campaign. Most Americans in the middle probably look and see a earnest man trying to deal with terrible global economy and dysfunctional Congress as best he can.

Is his best good enough? As journalist Bob Woodward, a chronicler of presidents, pointedly makes clear in The Price of Politics, Obama is clearly out of his element dealing with economic issues. Full of telling and detailed vignettes – Woodward is the envy of journalists who wonder at his ability to get seemingly everyone in Washington to talk to him – the author recreates the scenes of the President’s negotiations with Congressional Republicans to get a debt-limit deal in 2011 to avoid shutting down government or defaulting on debt payments. Woodward paints a stunning picture of the Hope and Change President incapable of working through the details of a grand bargain for tax reform and entitlement spending reductions. Obama is either politically naive, ignorant of economic facts, blind to the imminent dangers that failure entails, or uninterested in such weighty matters. The missteps and misjudgements in negotiating with Republicans demonstrate a president either uninterested or incapable in dealing with the fiscal problems American governments will continue to encounter in the foreseeable future. This book alone should have ensured Obama’s defeat in his re-election bid.

One reason Obama may not be interested is that he simply doesn’t care. That seems far-fetched, but several authors paint a picture of Obama as a socialist, with goals of massive redistribution, economic realities be damned.

Stanley Kurtz in Spreading the Wealth: How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities, Kurtz explores the radically anti-middle class ideology (a class for which the suburbs is a rough proxy) and how the President coordinates with community groups on tax policy, transportation policy, health care and a host of other issues to hinder economic self-reliance and build up the power of the state. It all sounds so conspiratorial, until you’ve read the book. In Obama’s world, redistributional politics is at odds with moral rectitude and individual liberty. His “regionalist” philosophy pits city values versus rural and suburban values, and in the end Obama wants the bureaucrat to impose the former. Secular gods replace the real One to rule over the lives of men.

Paul Kengor also examines the radical influence on Obama in The Communist. Kengor delves into the ideas of Frank Marshall Davis, an acknowledged mentor to Obama, who was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party of the United States of America. Kengor is careful to say Obama is not a communist but rather that the President’s thinking has been influenced by Davis’. While this shows up in a number of ways, of particular concern is that Davis considered traditional Christianity to be both a threat to the expansion of communism and vehicle to keep blacks subservient. In his writings – Davis was a journalist at numerous communist party newspaper – he described how especially Roman Catholicism needed to be expunged from the public square. Obama shares his mentor’s hostility to religion that is incompatible to his political agenda and like Davis, Obama seeks to break organized religion’s opposition to implementing their entire agenda. You can see the influence in policy such as Obamacare’s hostility to religious institutions in requiring them to provide heatlh insurance that covers abortion and contraception.

Of course, there is another lens through which to view Obama: politics. Obama is a political creature and he is the head of a political party. Jay Cost says the way to understand the Democrats is too look at their recent history during which they have become hostages to special interest groups, including feminists. In Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic. Cost provides a thorough if depressing history of how special interests captured the Democratic Party. Any number of special interests are examined, including unions, blacks, and environmentalists. One group with outsized influence is the feminists who have foisted a stridently pro-abortion agenda on the party (which has driven away evangelical and Catholic voters, thereby reinforcing the importance of the party’s radical base).

Cost describes the sordid negotiations for Obamacare which saw pro-life Democrats make a courageous stand only to get duped and pushed to the back of the bus to placate noisier and more numerous feminists within the party. Whether Obama actually wanted to make abortion a centrepiece in his health care reform is beside the point according to Cost; the party had no choice but to listen to its feminist constituency.

The glimpses into Obama (and his Democratic Party) provided by these books are not always compatible. What is clear, though, is that Obama is a radical who wants to remake America into a left-liberal utopia. He has only started to fulfil his mission, and on Nov. 6 Americans will decide whether he gets to complete the job.