Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Obama and Post-partisanship

Sean Smith makes some interesting points in this Politico piece. His argument is that many of those on the left now criticizing Obama for not being partisan enough were among those praising him in 2004 and 2008 for his post-partisan style. (Remember, "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America.") They convince themselves, Smith argues, that Obama is too worried about his poll position or his reelection prospects to fully take on the Republicans, that he's feigning bipartisanship. But, says, Smith,
It’s never been an act. It’s who he is. After seven years of exposure to him, you would think more people would accept that.
A few points here. One, Obama was backed in 2008 by everyone to the right of Dennis Kucinich and to the left of Colin Powell, nearly all of them believing that Obama stood for what they believed in. Someone in that coalition just had to end up disappointed.

Second, this article reveals an important point about partisanship: everyone hates it until they think their side is losing, and then they want more of it. That is, "I want an end to the bickering and I want politicians to set aside petty grievances and do what's right, but they damn well better fight for the things I believe in and not sell out to people I perceive as wrong or evil."

I disagree with Smith that next year's election will help settle this internal debate. If Obama loses, many on the right will say it was because he was too far to the left, and many on the left will say it's because he gave too much to the right. That is, he was both too partisan and not partisan enough. If he wins, that will be either evidence of the genius of his post-partisan style or of his tenacious defense of liberal values. It's all relative.

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