Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 19, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

POST-PARTISAN POLITICS...Historian Joseph Ellis has a very peculiar op-ed in today's LA Times. The subject is the criticism Barack Obama has received for his message of bipartisanship:

Central to the critique is the claim that Obama's message flies in the face of U.S. history, that partisanship is, as one critic put it, "the natural condition of politics."....While you can certainly marshal evidence to support this interpretation, very few of the so-called founding fathers (save perhaps Aaron Burr) would agree with it. And the first four presidents — George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison — would regard it as a perversion of all that they wished the American republic to become.

Now, there's no question that this is true: virtually all of the founders did warn endlessly about the dangers of faction. However, as Ellis himself points out, within a few years all of them were actively engaging in factional politics whether they liked it or not. So what to make of his conclusion?

Let the argument about the viability and practicality of Obama's major message go forward. But as it does, even his critics need to acknowledge that he is not a weird historical aberration. His message has roots in our deepest political traditions. Indeed, it is in accord with the most heartfelt and cherished version of our original intentions as a people and a nation.

Consider it acknowledged. But this sure seems like a backward argument to me. If even the brilliant, farsighted political visionaries who wrote the constitution and founded our country were unable to keep to their nonfactional ways for more than a few months, what does that say about the death grip that partisanship has on human politics? And what, in turn, does that have to say about Obama's apparent belief that he can overcome it?

Kevin Drum 1:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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Why does Kevin Drum hate the Unity Pony?

Posted by: lambert strether on January 19, 2008 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Yglesias alert: I'd say we've been in the "post-artisan" political age since at least the Industrial Revolution.

Posted by: kth on January 19, 2008 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, but there's another way to look at it. It's better to have the ideal of overcoming partisanship, and reluctantly engage in it when necessary, than to fully embrace it and never even try to rise to a higher standard.

I'm not really sure which approach is right - is embracing partisanship really more effective? Or does it lead to even more deadlock? But there's a virtue in aspiring to better things, as long as one does not take it as too much of a religion that it blocks the real work.

Posted by: Kirby on January 19, 2008 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

I think Clarence Thomas was right. The problem with current politics is that the conservatives are too polite and willing to let the liberals run roughshod over them.

Posted by: anandine on January 19, 2008 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

kth: Ah, but isn't politics an art? And hasn't Obama transcended it?

(For those who came in late and don't get it, the original headline for this post had a typo that made it read "Post-Artisan Politics".)

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 19, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

GWB was "elected" saying that he'd be a uniter not a divider.

The proof is in the pudding. Or should I say, puddin head?

Obama can say whatever he wants. How stuff gets done is another question. But he clearly has a better sense of history than our current preznut who thinks history can be written, time and time agin!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 19, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

What has happened is that the Republican Party has jettisoned all their centrists, and proceeded on a course of lawless radicaism, treaty-breaking, defiance of democratic process, and miltaristic adventurism.
The true conservatives of this nation are without representation, and their concerns are unaddressed. It's to these people that Obama should reach out. Not the radical fringe advocating torture, racism, imperial conquest, and the dismemberment of the constitution.

Posted by: pbg on January 19, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Obama comes to this idea of political unity (aka bipartisanship) because he is a natural pragmatist. It is innate with him. It is who he is. Maybe it stems from having to come to psychological/emotional terms with his biracial identity or maybe it's just in his DNA. Maybe he comes from a long line of pragamatists. Wherever it comes from, it's what he's selling, and he's a damn good salesman.

Posted by: lina on January 19, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

What Kirby said.
Of course bi-partisanship requires two to tango. Either side has veto power over the strategy. The key is to be open to reasonable bipartisanship, but not to allow the other side to force their agenda because your own desire for agreement is too great.

Posted by: bigTom on January 19, 2008 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

This ties into the latest Obama controversy over his comments regarding Reagan and the Republicans.

What people don't seem to grasp about Obama's latest talk about Reagan and the Republicans is how it reflects what so many progressives already find infuriating about the man as a political leader for progressives.

In both cases, in his invocation of Reagan as a model for his own Presidency, and in his talk about how the Republicans (as opposed to the Democrats, of course) were the "party of ideas", he acts as if they represent little more than another, perfectly legitimate, point of view -- one perhaps quite appropriate to the era of the last couple of decades. What is maddening to us progressives about this who have been paying attention over those years is how that completely fails to capture our own sense that that "point of view" was terrifically damaging to all the ideals and goals we hold dear, how that "point of view" has attempted to sabatoge the most basic safety net that progressives have struggled over many decades to put in place and maintain, and how that "point of view" was promoted by the most cynical kind of demagoguery by Reagan and the Republicans. In Obama's praise of Reagan and the Republicans, where do you find even a hint of the destruction they have sought to wreak on that which we hold near and dear, or of the giant leap backwards they have tried to push the American people into taking? Where?

This attitude of Obama's, which comes through so clearly in his appraisal of those decades, is of a piece with his current "above the fray", "bipartisan", "reaching out across the aisle" approach to Republicans. There is at base no recognition at all that they represent simply the antithesis of what we as progressives seek, and a profoundly damaging agenda for the American people. What we wish to build up, they want to pull down. There's no middle ground there: either the safety net continues on as before, and gets expanded to include universal health care, or it does not. Anything "in the middle" would simply undermine those goals, and leave millions of Americans in severely compromised circumstances.

The problem with Obama is that the man just doesn't get it. He's lived through the years from Reagan through this day, seen the Republicans in action, seen what they have done and intend to do, and he just doesn't get it.

While his supporters want to pretend that he's somehow being "deep" when it comes to his talk about Reagan and the Republicans, in fact he couldn't be more shallow. He doesn't get the very basics of what went on, of what everyone with two good eyes can see when they look at the history of the Conservative movement and of the Republican party.

And THAT is what progressives find so both maddening and frankly scary about the man.

And we can't help but wonder too about something else. Obama can't even successfully conceal this mindset in a Democratic primary. Just how awful, then, will he be when, as a general election candidate or President, he is no longer constrained by winning over the Democratic base? Just how much reaching over to the Republican point of view -- which he evidently considers to be quite legitimate at base -- might he do, when it might suit him in service of his own narrow political ambition?

Posted by: frankly0 on January 19, 2008 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

I agree somewhat with Kirby. I do think the "overcoming partisanship" talk by Obama is partially a typical rhetorical nicety candidates tend to use, but it almost surely reflects a basic orientation in Obama's thinking that would be beneficial if he were to become president. Functionally, I doubt he would be that less partisan than Clinton - who seems to me to be very pragmatic in her thinking - but his greatest appeal to me is in having a willingness to consider adjustments to overly cherished strategic positions that are probably more harmful than helpful to US and world interests. That may often involve thinking past many of the older conceptions of partisan positions. Of course it will not be possible for any president to avoid partisanship in all things, but there are a great many issues where the willingness to try may be worthwhile.

That said, I will be equally pleased if Obama or Clinton become president. They have different strengths, but overall their presidencies would probably be successful from the perspective of my priorities.

Posted by: TK on January 19, 2008 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: sarah on January 19, 2008 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

What a paralogical load of crap.

Posted by: therealthing on January 19, 2008 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

To accept frankly0's argument is to negate Obama's superior intellect and his track record as a progressive. To think he's going to turn into some baby wingnut out of zeal for his bipartisan campaign slogan is rubbish. He's not empty headed and malleable like GW Bush. He's solid and has more integrity that the average political whore.

Posted by: lina on January 19, 2008 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

The key word in Kevin's last line is "apparent belief."

Obama's record is not post-partisan. His rhetoric is post-partisan. And this is exactly the combination that progressives should want, if they want to get their agenda enacted.

This combination doesn't have to be viewed cynically, either. Rhetoric makes a real difference. I agree with Kirby, above: "It's better to have the ideal of overcoming partisanship, and reluctantly engage in it when necessary, than to fully embrace it and never even try to rise to a higher standard."

Posted by: Ted on January 19, 2008 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Why do you assume Obama is trying to overcome partisanship?

I assume he's trying to get the Dem nomination and get elected POTUS.

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on January 19, 2008 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Agreed completely, lina. Obama was looking historically to times when 'change' occurred, noting that such times were often dependent on the American public's readiness for 'change.' He in no way implied that changes instituted under Reagan had merit and Obama, in fact, is proably flabbergasted right now that he could be so hugely misunderstood.

Posted by: nepeta on January 19, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is the worst kind of Kumbaya Fascist.

(h/t Jona Lucianne)

Posted by: gregor on January 19, 2008 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

The Founders were the ORIGINAL "partisans", fer chrissake. They were the party of rebellion. They disagreed with the loyalists. They won the argument. It's ridiculous to pretend there was no argument.

Politics exists because people disagree. Otherwise we could have a government composed entirely of professional civil servants.

Parties exist because there are BUNDLES of issues about which people disagree. Global warming, the estate tax, abortion, Iraq: chances are good that if you and I disagree about one of those, we disagree about them all. And vice-versa. No wonder we end up adhering to opposite parties.

Parties also cease to exist, mainly when opinions become UNbundled. The GOP has lately bundled together war-mongers, tax-cutters, and Bible-thumpers. For a while, it worked.

-- TP

Posted by: Tony P. on January 19, 2008 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Clearly this historian did not see this dirty campaign ad from the pro-Adams Federalist committee: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5z1XhqsKpUE

Said historian's comments are incredibly stupid. I mean, yes, the founders were against factions of all kinds, until, you know, they started creating their own factions. Bache and Freneau and John Fenno certainly did not engage in apolitical activities. And John Adams put Bache in jail for his partisan writing. This guy's history is nonsense

Posted by: Paul on January 19, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

I like to read frankly0 although he's getting increasingly shrill (and baby, you pop up all over the internets!), but this time I didn't make it to rant's end.

What Obama said seems pretty simple.

Reagan was a charismatic leader and Americans rallied to him. Many Americans, including (reportedly) Hillary Clinton, think he was a "great" president. TRUE

Obama is also a charismatic leader and Americans are rallying to him. He hopes to become a great president. TRUE

Republicans have successfully communicated a clear, unequivocal ideology ("cut taxes, kick ass, and God bless America"). TRUE

Republican ideology has dominated US politics for the past few decades. TRUE

The Clintons are famed not for ideas but for triangulation. TRUE

Did I miss something?

Posted by: Lucy on January 19, 2008 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Mr. Drum, we know you like Hillary, which is fine -- but you of all people should embrace nonpartisanship! What do you think Bill Clinton was? He was Mr. Third Way, the ultimate Centrist, the synthesist who blended ideas from right and left.

Posted by: Eliott on January 19, 2008 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Good grief, Kevin. In no sense whatsoever does Obama think he can "overcome" partisanship. As lina noted above, he's a pragmatist. Thus his appeals to broad national interests--and his "we're all in this together" language--are pragmatic in two senses, as tactical/electoral tools and as strategic/governing premises.

It saddens and frustrates me that progressives like frankly0 don't understand that Obama's "praise" of Reagan wasn't programmatic in any sense. It wasn't even praise! It was a fully accurate description of the extent to which Reagan defined the terms of American political debate for a generation.

The underlying premise of Obama's campaign is that the Reagan order--its intellectual exhaustion and functional failure exposed and exacerbated by George W. Bush--is done.

If progressives and rank-and-file Dems can't understand the distinction between Obama's savvy grasp of what Reagan did to American politics (i.e., reset the debate on his terms) and his rejection of the programmatic commitments of the Reagan regime...we'll lose our best chance yet to undo the worst of what Reagan did to American government.

Posted by: Kevin P. on January 19, 2008 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

The divisiveness of our recent politics arises from the fact that contemporary conservatives sees compromise as dishonorable; morally dishonorable. And, of course, the fact that this uncompromising conservatism has, after a 30 year fight to gain control, controlled one of the major parties -- a party that has been in control of the the Congress or the Presidency and the Congress for most of the last 13 years.

Liberals and moderates make a mistake when they think this unwillingness to compromise, unwillingness to recognize the interests, values and goals of competing constiuencies as legitimate, is merely a tactic. It is not. It is based not only in a heart-felt belief in their own righteousness, but in an equally heart-felt belief in the illigetimacy and even evil of the other side. This is politics as war, and ideology as religion.

You can't "reach across the aisle" and expect to make gains for the constituencies you represent when the people you must negotiate with do not recognize the interests of those you represent as legitimate. People who see such negotiations as morally compromising, and in many ways, don't even recognize the legitimacy of your presence in the room.

We won't have more political "unity" than we do now until that contemporary brand of conservatism is weakened at the polls, and is less powerfully represented in the legislature and/or the executive branch.

If Obama becomes President and is able to oversee a new, less divisive political era, it will be because those conservative forces have been politically defeated or seriously weakened in the Congress and Senate.

But, of course, under those circumstances, any Democrat would oversee an era of greater political unity. Not as a condition they created, but as a circumstance they were fortunate enough to enjoy.

Posted by: esmense on January 19, 2008 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

i>You can't "reach across the aisle" and expect to make gains for the constituencies you represent when the people you must negotiate with do not recognize the interests of those you represent as legitimate.

Obama has done it in Illinois. The most recent of the gazillion news stories on this subject appear in this week's New Republic.

Posted by: Lucy on January 19, 2008 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

I got the sense from McCullough's biography of Adams that Jefferson really got the ball rolling on party politics, and that the Vituperation Toxicity Index (on the Leiberman Scale) was very high?

Posted by: chiggins on January 19, 2008 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Our Founding Fathers also crafted the body of our Constitution as a bulwark AGAINST too much democracy, per the excellent revisionist history of the Constitution's creation, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, by Woody Holton.

(Page 273: "The Framers designed the Federal government to be much less accessible than it seems.")

Yet, our idiotic American public puts the entire Constitution, a now-antiquated document, on a ridiculous pedestal. And, even the Bill of Rights is lacking things like an explicit right to privacy amendment like that found in post-WWII Western European constitutions.

Beyond that, it's arguable the Founders meant a party of debtors, if anything, when they spoke against "party" and "faction." Joseph Ellis could stand to read Holton's book.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 19, 2008 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

The Founders were the "party" against paper money, easy money, easy credit and other things. They were the party of money and investors.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 19, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Many progressives seem to want to emulate Bush's 50% +1 strategy. It didn't work very well for the Republicans, why would it work for us? Only 20% of the country self-identifies as liberal, so the only way to pass a progressive agenda is to make more people into progressives. Obama's message of unification capitalizes on Bush's alienation of the centrists and brings more people into the party and onboard with the progressive agenda. A leader of the party who appreciates a diversity of opinion is in marked contrast to Bush and necessary to make new Democrats feel comfortable.

Posted by: Mike2 on January 19, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Instead of taking inspiration from Reagan, I would hope that Obama would take inspiration from another prominent Republican Governor of California named Arnold Schwarzenegger who, when asked "What is best in life?" replied, "To defeat your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women."

Posted by: Tyro on January 19, 2008 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Would a divisive multi-racial American have a better chance of being elected?

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08! on January 19, 2008 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

It saddens and frustrates me that progressives like frankly0 don't understand that Obama's "praise" of Reagan wasn't programmatic in any sense. It wasn't even praise! It was a fully accurate description of the extent to which Reagan defined the terms of American political debate for a generation.

And it "saddens and frustrates" me that you don't realize that most progressives want another kind of mindset in our political leaders than that Obama exhibits.

Look at the man's words. Everything about how he describes the Republican "revolution" and the Reagan era suggests that, to Obama's mind, they were legitimate and appropriate to the time. The worst criticism he offers about them is that they are, in effect, outdated in today's time. He clearly admires Reagan's ability to project and promote a feeling of "optimism" -- a trait Obama himself clearly wants to emulate -- without any discussion of whether that optimism was real, or instead a demagogue's cynical manipulation of the people to put in place policies against their own interests.

Where, again, does Obama communicate any sense in these words of how destructive the Republican ideas were?

Put it most sharply: what strikes Obama as most important to get across in a clearly political context (as were his interviews): the "transformative" nature of Reagan and the Republicans, in which one acts as if their ideas are perfectly acceptable and suitable to the times, or the disastrousness of their agenda? Which is more basic?

For progressives, it is the latter. For Obama, the former.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 19, 2008 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

grip that partisanship has on human politics

Our physical design, as well as the design of our world, is polemical. When Sen. Clinton is insulted for being a woman, many people respond by supporting her. When Sen. Obama is insulted for being an African American, many people respond by supporting him. Issues create poles just like rotating heavenly bodies do and everyone's disposition attracts them to what often times seem like limited, zero-sum game, choices.

If bipartisanship created new choices or realities, it might be more appreciated. To many, on either side of any issue, concessions do not seem to create new realities but instead reinforce the current or wrong policy. Our politics could use an eloquent counselor to guide us to a new political consciousness of bipartisanship, but how can such a coming together include the exclusiveness that is so much a part of partisanship and America's heritage? Maybe Sen. Obama's leadership can bring Republicans and Independents who support the Iraq invasion/occupation, harsh immigration policies, ending inheritance taxes, etc. to my way of thinking, but I am not crossing over to theirs.

Posted by: Brojo on January 19, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

esmense -- Your premise of progressive revivial requiring a comprehensive defeat of the political right hits the mark exactly. But I hope you don't actually believe that "any Democrat would oversee an era of greater political unity. Not as a condition they created, but as a circumstance they were fortunate enough to enjoy." What a fatalistic notion of political leadership!

Here we can turn again to the Reagan example. Was the political sea change of the early 1980s--the sweeping rejection of the New Deal political order (but not its most enduring programmatic achievements such as Social Security)--just something Reagan steped into? Was it just a matter of his being there at the right time? Not at all. He crystallized and communicated an entirely new way of thinking about the big questions of the day (e.g., government isn't the solution; it's the problem). And he marginalized the tired partisan/intellectual legacy of the New Deal.

Ultimately, a la Stockman's Triumph of Politics, he couldn't shake loose the New Deal's bedrock achievements. But his leadership still mattered, by helping an otherwise inchoate constellation of movements (Cold Warriors, "Moral Majority" types, supply siders, economically and culturally unsettled blue collar workers, &c.) rally to his vague but forceful promises of "change."

My view is that only Obama has a chance to replicate the "Reagan Democrat" phenomenon on our side, with "Obama Republicans" who are fed up with the stone-age obsessions of the right-wing culture warriors, value competent/effective government in its proper sphere, and aren't (as hard as this may be for people like us to grasp) wrapped up in partisan concerns per se.

In a turn-the-page election, it isn't just big political-structural stuff that matters. It's agency too. Leadership. Reagan was plenty wrong on plenty of issues. But he grasped this basic reality of American politics as well as any president since FDR.

He came along a moment of great opportunity to replace an exhausted party system. But it didn't just happen. And now it's our turn. Assuming we don't blow it...

Posted by: Kevin P. on January 19, 2008 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Kevin P., the proof is in the pudding. Can Obama get the votes? Reagan was the darling of the movement conservative wing of his party in the '76 and '80 primaries.

I keep giving Obama the benefit of the doubt, but he has a pattern of trying to outflank his primary opponents from the right. He does this again and again, to the point where I start to think, "Hm. Maybe I should stop trying to figure out what he's like 'deep inside' and accept that he really is who he says he is."

However, as Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08! alludes to, Obama is running the only possible campaign he is able to run. Maybe it's clever, and maybe it's too clever by half.

Posted by: Tyro on January 19, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0 -- I think part of the disconnect between our perspectives on Obama's take on Reagan and the 1980s is that I see his comments as largely descriptive-analytical (i.e., "here's where Reagan fit into the ongoing flow of American party politics"), and very much not normative (i.e., "here's what I think of the Reagan era on the merits").

This is one of Obama's potential liabilities. When he speaks in professorial terms, his academic assessments can get misconstrued as normative judgments.

From where I sit, he should get credit for his academic-leaning sensibilities. He grasps the historical ebb and flow of American politics--and where we are now--better than anyone since...Bill Clinton.

The good news is that the tide of American politics is coming in for progressives in a way it absolutely wasn't in 1992. For my part, I think the skinny kid from Hawaii is best positioned to help us ride the wave for all it's worth...

Posted by: Kevin P. on January 19, 2008 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

The Constitution itself is a compromise between partisan and sectional interests. When it was submitted to the states for ratification, each state became locked in a bitter partisan divide between Federalists and Anti-Federalists. If Joseph Ellis is unaware of this, he is not a student of American history. If he is aware of it, he's a hack.

While in the senate, Obama has had little effect on partisanship. He has crossed no great divide; his rousing speech has brought no one to his side on divisive issues.

To accept frankly0's argument is to negate Obama's superior intellect and his track record as a progressive.... lina at 1:55 PM
Of course, his desire for power and willingness to say one thing and engage is the usual smear&lie under the radar are completely absent. Not. Please show that progressive record

...He chose a half-dozen or so mostly noncontroversial topics on which to carve a niche. And on those issues - which range from the government's preparedness for avian flu to destroying weapons stockpiles in the former Soviet Union - he has mostly crafted a moderate stance, often working closely with a Republican colleague.....And he joined Sen. Coburn on Katrina, where he generated considerable attention by visiting New Orleans and wading into the debate over whether the slow response was driven by racism. (That accusation, he said at the time, was "too simplistic," although he took the Bush administration to task more broadly for its policies toward the poor.)...Obama's voting record shows fewer signs of independence. He supported a GOP-backed bill to impose new limits on class-action lawsuits and also said yes to Condoleezza Rice's confirmation for secretary of state, even as some of his Democratic colleagues used that vote to object to the Bush administration's Iraq war policy. But he has otherwise mostly voted with his fellow Democrats.
Obama also has taken a cautious tack on Iraq. He campaigned strongly against the war last year, and many expected him to be a forceful voice on the subject.
But Obama waded into the fray over Iraq after there was already a deafening drumbeat of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans of the administration's conduct of the war. And his speech offered little new; his call for a phased draw-down of troops, for example, had already been bandied about by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and others....

Obama ....in no way implied that changes instituted under Reagan had merit....nepeta at 2:17 PM

He never said it was retrenchment from the Democratic progressive programs.

Posted by: Mike on January 19, 2008 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Tyro -- Good point about Reagan's darling status and the '76 prelude to 1980. I see a serviceable analogy in Obama's startling flourish at the 2004 convention. And given that the world moves faster these days, it's perfectly straightforward to expect Obama to consolidate a working electoral majority much more quickly than Reagan did back in the day.

But as always, much uncertainty remains...

Posted by: Kevin P. on January 19, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Viable multi-party factions are necessary for the same reason we need viable multiple branches of government.

Simply put, sociopaths gravitate to positions of power. If you don't have a system in place where other sociapaths can check their ambitions, a fee society is doomed. See: Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, Napoleon, Bush, Caesar... etc.

Unfotunate side effect of 'human nature' (genetic programming).

Posted by: Buford on January 19, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK
....He came along a moment of great opportunity to replace an exhausted party system..... Kevin P. on January 19, 2008 at 3:21 PM

Reagan was highly partisan. He challenged a sitting Republican president in the primaries because he thought Ford was too accommodating. He declared in Philadelphia MS to reinforce the racism of the Republican's southern strategy. Reagan Democrats were mostly people who didn't not want to see African-Americans in high-paying union jobs and were against any affirmative action.

You completely misinterpret the Reagan Revolution. He as a last ditch defense against equal rights and represented the long-standing Republican desire to roll back the New Deal.

There will be no Obama Republicans. Bush has a high approval rating with Republicans, through 12-Dec, 2007

Among Republicans (31% of adults registered to vote in the survey), 65% approve of the way Bush is handling his job and 27% disapprove....

When you hear Republicans criticizing Bush, it's because they fell he abandoned 'Republican' principles.

Posted by: Mike on January 19, 2008 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

How odd that his piece is titled "The better angels", which was a line Lincoln used in his first inaugural address, an attempt at "bipartisanship," in which, among other things, Lincoln demonstrated his "bipartisanship" by promising he wouldn't lift a finger against slavery. The Civil War started a month afterwards. I'm assuming either Ellis was trying to make some kind of clever point with the title, in which case he failed, or he was the victim of some mischevious headline writer.

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Maybe Obama's speechwriters can use this as inspiration for some more promises of bipartisanship.

Posted by: Martin Gale on January 19, 2008 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

I'd say on the one hand there are large segments of the U.S. population who hold strong and irreconcilable world views and resulting political agendas. None is interested in compromising with any of the others. These groups have the loudest political voice, and drive the agendas of politicians.

On the other hand, I think there is a larger group somewhere in the middle whom are mostly indifferent to the beliefs and agendas of the first groups. This second category is mostly just interested in getting along with their day to day existence. They are largely uninterested in politics except where they can discern that it has a direct impact on their daily lives. Maybe this is the group Obama is trying to reach.

Posted by: Del Capslock on January 19, 2008 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Mike -- If my comment implied that I thought of Reagan as non- or post-partisan, I simply didn't write clearly. If you read the bulk of my comments on this thread, I think you'll see that I situate Reagan very much in the ongoing flow of the American party system. When I wrote that "[Reagan] came along a moment of great opportunity to replace an exhausted party system," I didn't mean the American party system; I meant the New Deal party system!

And he did so, quite forcefully, at an intellectual-rhetorical level. But not, thanks to their institutional durability and political resilience, at the level of the New Deal's core programmatic achievements.

But then that's part of the secular pattern in presidential leadership in our system. Established policies/programs have become so stubbornly entrenched ("good" ones, "bad" ones, pretty much all of 'em) that it's increasingly difficult to dislodge any particular set of organized claims. In this sense, Reagan's sweeping rhetorical rejection of the New Deal couldn't be matched by truly profoud programmatic achievements. Marginal ones here and there, and consequential in some cases...but not fundamental.

A couple Bush-era examples: NCLB codifying a Federal role in education (to the horror of early-Reagan-era GOPers) and the preservation of massive corporate ag subsidies.

Posted by: Kevin P. on January 19, 2008 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

Here's what troubles me about Kevin's bland acceptance of partisanship -- more so than in the past, partisanship now is better described as "poisonous partisanship." Republicans and Democrats were able to work together, within some range of specification, from the end of World War II to the 1970s; Reagan obviously appealed to a the conservative end of the Democratic Party caucus. There were certainly differences, even pointed differences, on things like the League of Nations, Nicaragua, etc., but by and large there was some amity between parties in the 20th-Century.

What the Gingrich Revolution hath wrought is this zero-sum, death-to-the-opposition variety partisanship where, "by definition," everything Republicans do is evil/ugly/fascist/corrupt/choose your pejorative to Democrats and everything Democrats do is evil/ugly/socialist/corrupt/choose your pejorative to Republicans.

It seems to me that this attitude is a recipe for the dissolution of the Republic -- Democrats hold the White House for 8 years, Republicans get it and undo everything the Democrats did; Republicans hold the White House for 8 years, Democrats get it and undo everything the Republicans did.

At some point you have to ask, What the fuck is the point?

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on January 19, 2008 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0 -- I think part of the disconnect between our perspectives on Obama's take on Reagan and the 1980s is that I see his comments as largely descriptive-analytical (i.e., "here's where Reagan fit into the ongoing flow of American party politics"), and very much not normative (i.e., "here's what I think of the Reagan era on the merits").

Look, excusing Obama's talk as if it were just some "analytical" discussion simply misses the point entirely,

Let me remind you of something. Obama is a politician. He is running for President. If he is to be an "agent of change", he has to be part of that process, not somehow someone looking from some kind of out-of-body point of view at the political process. Everything he says has to be understood as something indicating exactly what he stands for, and in what direction he intends to push our politics.

I'm sure there are political scientists who have "analyzed" the rise of Mussolini or even Hitler himself so that they could be understood as the institution of a "new paradigm", and the rise of "new ideas" in the face of "conventional wisdom", and characterized the "transformative" nature of their regimes. But if anyone thought that that captured the essence of what went on in those eras, don't you think they would be utterly scorned for focusing on superficial, abstract characteristics, and not on things of basic importance that went on in those times? Don't you think it would especially unforgivable of a politician to do so in his role as politician?

Now of course Mussolini and Hitler represent very extreme cases here of what I'm talking about. I wouldn't even bring up their cases if the case of Reagan didn't already fail to convince you of the point. But for most progressives, a like truth applies to Reagan and the Republicans, even if they are on a far, far more acceptable point in the continuum of perniciousness than these more extreme cases. For progressives, what is absolutely crucial to emphasize, and never lose sight of, when it comes to Reagan and the Republicans, is how reactionary, destructive, and manipulative they are. And, again, that point is most especially crucial to adhere to when it comes to actual political leaders.

In the end there is no way of getting around the basic choice a politician makes in communicating about the Reagan/Republican era: is the takeaway one of "transformation", or is it one of reactionary, destructive demagoguery?

Obama made the first choice. Progressives make the second.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 19, 2008 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

The republicans have a LOT to think about this campaign. For more info, I found an awesome article called "Reagan Babies" at www.SAVAGEPOLITICS.com. Here is an excerpt:
""A baby is an alimentary canal with a laud voice at one end and no responsibility at the other" Ronald Reagan
Last Tuesday was a big day for Republican Candidate Mitt Romney for he came out ahead of all others in Michigan's Primary election. To many this was not a surprise since his father was elected thrice Governor of Michigan in the 60's and, by many citizens' standards, was good for the State. This of course creates a very interesting power struggle within the Grand Old Party since Huckabee and McCain had already won their own primaries, making this race, as of Today, a three-way race. Of course, we have Thompson looking to catch South Carolina's ticket and Rudy Giuliani aiming to do the same in Florida. This last candidate has basically bet all his chips on winning Florida, if he does not win said State, he might as well never had run for the nomination. For many conservatives, this situation within the Republican pool of candidates is both embarrassing and aggravating. Here we have a process which basically tends to eliminate their most ideologically consonant candidates right from the beginning, since they depend on primaries and caucuses in predominantly "blue" states which, to make matters even worse, usually allow independents to participate. In this year's election though, it seems that all this does not matter since none of the participants seems to fulfill their base's expectations. Can any of these candidates face off against Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John Edwards in a general election?
Since the birth of the Reagan Coalition, the era which brought to the Republican Party the juncture of both Social Conservatism and Economic Conservatism, the Grand Old Party has been unable to keep track of their own ideology, usually loosing itself to divergent group interests and in the process becoming a massive political tent that caters to both corporate and institutional fluctuations. Instead of assuming the responsibility of admitting to itself that Economic Conservatism, a belief..."
Find the rest of the article at www.SAVAGEPOLITICS.com

Posted by: elsy on January 19, 2008 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK
.... Reagan's sweeping rhetorical rejection of the New Deal couldn't be matched by truly profoud programmatic achievements........Kevin P. at 4:13 PM
The rhetoric of Reagan was mostly by innuendo rather than position papers or public speeches. When Reagan complained of welfare queens, everyone knew he was talking about African-Americans the same way Nixon's spoke of Law 'n Order. When he talked of big government, he wanted to limit or eliminate programs that helped average Americans.

Reagan tried to end many New Deal programs and protections. Bush tried to finish off Social Security. The Republican policy is the same as the old Stalinist one: a slice of the sausage here, another there, and before you know it, your sausage is only an aroma. We've lost numerous defenses that would have prevented the S&L scandal, the sub-prime mess, the ability of banks to sell securities and insurance, numerous environmental and health programs. These are fundamental to protect people from predators. Republican efforts will continue.

There is nothing in Obama's record that leads one to believe he has any strong belief in those programs. In fact, he as acceded to the right's talking points on Social Security . I would be curious to hear what he has to say about Ward Connerly's anti-affirmative initiatives currently pending in 5 states.

....At some point you have to ask, What the fuck is the point?.... Hemlock for Gadflies at 4:36 PM
The point is do you want lead in children's toys, arsenic in your drinking water, mercury in your food, acid in your rain? The Republican agenda is to roll back all consumer protections, deregulate all corporate entities and what used to be called natural monopolies. If you have no problem with a crony capitalism, the merging of lobbyists and government the way the Republican's K-Street Project did and its damaging effects on the environment and society, then go back to sleep. Posted by: Mike on January 19, 2008 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

Part of the problem we're having here is that the media quote taken from Obama's hour-long interview with the Reno Gazette, lacks context. Being an Obama supporter, I was indeed shocked to hear that Obama had somehow given a favorable nod to Reagan and the changes that occured during his administration. After listening to the interview, Obama's comments made perfect sense to me. He neither praised nor condemned those changes, but simply said that a huge sea-change had taken place, something I think we'd all agree on. The complete interview (video) can still be seen here:

Reno Gazette Obama Interview

Posted by: nepeta on January 19, 2008 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

Bipartisanship and "reaching across the aisle" have been given far too much consideration to my mind. Call me hard hearted, but it is simply not a priority for me. My priorities are universal health care, a strong economic stimulus package aimed at the lower and middle classes and an effective exit strategy from Iraq.

We could easily spend 4 years trying to be friends and get nothing done in the process. As many have stated above, progressives and conservatives think differently and have radically different agendas.

We all have friends. We don't need a warm and charming president. We need someone who works their fingers to the bone getting this train wreck of a government back on track.

Posted by: Cayce on January 19, 2008 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

anandine has got to be the biggest liar on the planet next to the pig Rove! The guy is certifiably crazy. In his paranoia he accuses the Dems of doing what the repugnant party has been doing for decades.

Posted by: Captain Dan on January 19, 2008 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Factionalism has been condemned in Western politics since classical times. Cicero famously claimed that the ideal of concordia ordinum was of overriding importance and the best way 'to introduce sedition and discord into a city is to look after the interests of only one part of the citizens, while neglecting the rest'. It has been held, particularly in the context of republics, that concord led to prosperity and greatness. This is why the leaders must be virtuous, good and not self-interested. You hear this principle in the ancient world, in the Renaissance and during the Enlightenment.

This all began to fall apart about 200 years ago when society was redefined as a collection of individuals striving for individual gain. It was no longer assumed that there was a "common heart". Neoliberalism is a political manifestation of this vision. It is anything but conservative. When they say they are anti-government they mean every kind of government including virtuous republics.

Posted by: bellumregio on January 19, 2008 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK


In the interview that I linked to at 5:26 PM Obama lists his top three priorities on day 1 to be (1) calling in the military Chiefs of Staff and redefining their mission in Iraq to one of redeployment, emphasizing safe and prudent withdrawal; (2) getting a universal health plan passed by Congress within one year; and (3) I forget (gr). Take a look yourself, won't you?

Posted by: nepeta on January 19, 2008 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

Obama doesn't have a "belief" that he can overcome partisan politics. He has a political message that positions him as a person who wishes to overcome partisan politics. People may have partisan views, but partisan battles that stand in the way of getting popular things done are extremely unpopular, and someone who says they will change this will be correspondingly opular. Obama, in other words, is trying to get elected, and pretty shrewdly, if you ask me. I'm an Edwards guy, but he's looking toastier every day, so Obama's definitely my second choice over Hill.

Similary, he likens himself to Ronald Reagan as someone who can have a transformative effect on our national discourse and national politics. Maybe he can, though that's a tough act to follow. But claiming this is very intelligent. It stakes out a moderate position that will sap moderate support from whatever asssclown the GOP puts out there.

Posted by: Daddy Love on January 19, 2008 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK
Cicero famously claimed that the ideal of concordia ordinum was of overriding importance and the best way 'to introduce sedition and discord into a city is to look after the interests of only one part of the citizens, while neglecting the rest'....

This all began to fall apart about 200 years ago when society was redefined as a collection of individuals striving for individual gain.

Posted by: bellumregio on January 19, 2008 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

This wouldn't be the same Cicero who helplessly watched while factionalism destroyed the Roman Republic, would it?

Posted by: Martin Gale on January 19, 2008 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

Politics without some sense or measure of partisanship in is simply a shipwreck in the offing. Some of the most regretable collective public decision-making in our country's history has been the result of ill-conceived ideas that were hastily enacted and implemented in the name of "non-partisanship", which precluded a full discussion of both possible alternatives and potential consequences.

Some people say that they're turned off of politics because engaging in debate and discussion is often exhausting and draining. Well, so's physical exercise. But as both are also reinvigorating and refreshing, so both are vitally necessary to the continued maintenance of a sound mind and body.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 19, 2008 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

You know, everyone gets upset whenever a moderate tone escapes a Democratic candidate. "They're trying to outflank their opponents on the right!" We worry about this. Is this person not a "real liberal?" Horrors!

Compare this to moderate talk on the part of a GOP candidate. The conservatives excoriate him, they worry that he's not a "real" conservative, and I gotta tell you, when I hear a GOP candidate with moderate rhetoric, I worry that he'll draw independent voters away from the Democrat. And maybe he would.

That's why it's OK for Obama to do this. Because if he does, he'll win! We should trust trust that our Democratic candidates acutally are liberals.

Posted by: Daddy Love on January 19, 2008 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK


I think you're missing the point, both as stated by Obama and as explained by Kevin P. When Obama talks about Reagan as an "agent of change" it is a descriptive statement. Frankly (to borrow your moniker), it's difficult to imagine looking at Reagan and being unable to see how successfully he changed the political landscape: think "Reagan Democrats". On the other hand, Bill Clinton, for all his political gifts, was more a successful campaigner than an agent of change.

Ask yourself, how much stronger was the GOP after Reagan's presidency than before?
Answer: a lot stronger.
Then ask how much stronger the Democratic Party was after Clinton's presidency?
Answer: stronger, but not overwhelmingly so.

As evidence, look at their successors. George W. Bush, a mediocre candidate who was not all that popular with the Reaganites won election fairly easily, while Al Gore, a better candidate and one who was reasonably popular among DLC Democrats won a bare majority of the popular vote and lost a contested election only after making up substantial ground in the last couple of weeks of his election campaign.

Even 15 years after Reagan left office, Republican candidates are still trying to attach his name to themselves, and that's not simply a matter of claiming that they'd carry out his policies. But only 8 years after Clinton, the threads here at Political Animal are full of progressives arguing that we don't need "another Clinton." For better better of for worse (and I'd agree that it was mostly worse), Reagan was an agent of change, and a more successful one than Bill Clinton. You may not like that, and Obama may not much like it either, but that doesn't make it untrue, and saying it doesn't make Obama any less of a Democrat.

Posted by: keith on January 19, 2008 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

P.S. If you're going to tip-toe up to Godwin's law on this and talk about "political scientists who have 'analyzed' the rise of Mussolini or even Hitler himself so that they could be understood as the institution of a 'new paradigm'" then you might want to consider that they did so as a means of understanding the success of the Fascist/National Socialist rise to power. When David Schoenbaum makes his brilliant analysis of Hitler's transformational politics in , he's obviously not advocating Hitler's policies, he's just pointing out that there was a lot more going on than "something rotten in German culture" and correctly pointing out that Hitler made some demonically brilliant political moves. Ye Gods, analysis and statements of fact aren't advocacy; most of the political scientists, sociologists and historians who've undertaken this task have been Jewish!

Posted by: keith on January 19, 2008 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK
You know, everyone gets upset whenever a moderate tone escapes a Democratic candidate. "They're trying to outflank their opponents on the right!" Posted by: Daddy Love on January 19, 2008 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

No, everyone gets upset when some candidates adopt a moderate tone. Some other candidates, on the other hand, can adopt whatever tone they like, and the same people who have been going beserk for years about compromising, "spineless Dems" will congratulate them for their mastery of electoral politics. Well, one other candidate, anyway.

Maybe that's what some people are really upset about.

Posted by: Martin Gale on January 19, 2008 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

If you google the magic words (I'm forgetting what they are) you will find some grad student, historian, or political scientist's fine little paper about this very subject.

The paper's conclusion? By the middle of the 1790s the key determining factor for votes by members of Congress was partisan affiliation.

Posted by: Linus on January 19, 2008 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

Stray observation I remember from McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom," in which he noted that the Confederate States of America attempted to ban parties as such in their Constitution and found that the lack of parties made it difficult to organize the work of the Legislature.

Posted by: Henry on January 19, 2008 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

P.P.S. It's nice to see that we got almost 20 posts into this thread before someone decided to attack Joseph Ellis as a historian (I'm talking about you, Paul at 2:26)

Good point, Joseph Ellis is just some hack! Look, among those for whom study of the late colonial and early federal period is their job, Ellis is almost universally regarded as one of the small handful at the top of the field. He's a better historian than Woody Holton, and if Holton's book is really worth reading, then Ellis has already done so. But if Socratic Gadfly at 2:54 and 2:56 has Holton's argument right, then maybe it's not worth reading... if he makes the claim that Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton belonged to a "party" that held common views on economic questions. Easy credit? Are you joking? Go back and read your Bud Bailyn and Gordon Wood!

Posted by: keith on January 19, 2008 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

is anyone going to listen to ellis on anything?

did he not tell his students he served valiantly
in the vietnam war, when he wasn't anywhere
near southeast asia, let alone being home
opposing the war?

he can have his views, but, sometimes, we
have to disregard even academics who have
proven themselves beyond contempt?

Posted by: scott on January 19, 2008 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

I agree wholeheartedly with franklyO. Obama is either pretending to be above the fray or astoundingly naive. Can he not see what the Republicans are doing in South Carolina? Those "good Christians" are lying through their teeth to destroy McCain. I have not seen Democrats do anything that even remotely compares to the Swiftboating of McCain, saying he betrayed his fellow POWs. If that is what they are willing to do to their own people, how will Obama's reaching out get them to be bipartisan???
Our politics are hyper partisan because the well funded far right machine has been viscious in their dishonest attacks on opponents since the early nineties and, even worse, our mainstream media has refused to make this clear to the public. The right wing machine accused the Clinton's of everything up to and including murder and the media looked the other way. Journalists that are held in high regard by their media peers pedaled these smears. For example Robert Novak still likes to imply that Vince Foster was murdered by the Clintons but he is still a respected journalist. They successfully defeated both Gore and Kerry with their repeated lies, and the media yawned. I am appalled by how many Democrats have been drinking this Kool Aid.
I urge everyone to read "The Hunting of a President" by Gene Lyons and Joe Conason. Whether you like Bill Clinton or not, this well-researched book gives an in depth look at how the well-funded right wing attack machine operates and how the media plays along with them. We all need to understand how they operate and be prepared to fight back hard. We also need to pressure the media to do their job and hold Republicans and their media peers accountable for their outrageous behavior. The uproar over Chris Matthews' sexist remarks is a good start. The media needs to be as afraid to trash Democrats as they are to be hard on Republicans.
Why Obama thinks he will be immune to the destructive force of the right wing is beyond comprehension. He should talk to his supporter John Kerry about his experience being attacked for committing the sin of being a genuine war hero.

Posted by: BernieO on January 19, 2008 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

I fear that what Senator Obama may be missing in his striving towards a post-partisan politics, is that the "ideas" the Republicans have touted to win elections since Reagan have all been facades for their real motives - the dismantlement of the New Deal and the return of this country to 1890.
Voodoo economics (less taxes, more revenue), the Contract for (on) America, the Patriot Act (government intrusion in private life not seen since WWII), No Child Left Behind (to hold teachers "accountable"for their results in the classroom), and on and on and on... Afraid of gays? Vote Republican. Afraid of dark-skinned people? Vote Republican.
Every single election has been simply a marketing campaign with the Republicans promising everything to everyone or else trying to frighten everyone into either support or silence.
And behind these fronts the Republicans have whittled away at our Constitutional rights. They have either gutted Departments or, even worse, given them to the foxes to run. They have allowed incompetents to staff and run FEMA and the DoJ. When given military advice they don't like, they fire that person. The same thing happens to intellgence workers. Wounded US soldiers are ignored until they become a national scandal. And when finally reduced to a minority, all the Congressional members of this party can do is obstruct the attempts to govern the country and represent the majority.
Personally, I really don't see what there is to admire in a party that has consistently lied to the US citizenry, even if some of them made nice speeches. Perhaps Senator Obama would run less risk of being misunderstood if he would emphasize some of the Republicans actions, rather than their words?

Posted by: Doug on January 19, 2008 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

More appropriate Lincoln quote regarding Obama:

"He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas better than any man I ever met."

Posted by: Chrissy on January 19, 2008 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

If the bundle of "progressive values" is medicine, then Hillary is plain asprin and Obama is asprin coated with Pepto Bismol. If we dems want to nominate chalky aspirin, our patient may decide in november to just "suck it up and deal" instead.

This isn't about politicians, this about how do you view voters who disagree with you. Far too often, progressives view GOP voters as idiots or worse. I say this as a very conservative democrate, so YMMV, but I remember when that guy wrote the "What's the Matter with Kansas" book and I agreed, until I actually talked to my friends who are die-hard republicans who said, basically "Just because I vote against my wallet does not mean I am voting against my interests."

Make to my aspirin analogy, do we want our patient to swallow our cure or suffer because he refuses to take it? If Obama makes it more palatable, isn't that better than the patient dying because he'd rather do anything than take Hillary's medicine?

Posted by: Blue Moon on January 19, 2008 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Kirby: opposing partisanship doesn't mean dreaming that it can overcome -- not completely.

Among practical people of good will, ideals set directions for striving, not utopian destinations. Rejecting ideals because cannot be fully achieved misses the point and cripples our ability to speak clearly about betterment. And that's not good practice.

Posted by: withKirby on January 19, 2008 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

You can't "reach across the aisle" and expect to make gains for the constituencies you represent when the people you must negotiate with do not recognize the interests of those you represent as legitimate.

You are quite right when it comes to reaching across the aisle to leaders. You are quite wrong when it comes to reaching acroos the aisle to the rank and file. From where I sit as an outsider looking in it seems that Mr. Obama is all about building the size of his constituency which like it or hate it (and I hate it and hated it at the time) Mr. Reagan did and Mr. Clinton didn't. Reaching across to the latter gives you the strength to take the fight to the former. Is this so difficult to see? (for what it's worth, I think Ms. Clinton has the greater managerial capabilities but I believe Mr. Obama has a chance to transform the field of possibilities - again something Mr. Reagan did)

(I only speak for myself unlike FranklyO who it seems has transformed into the voice of all progressives)

Posted by: snicker-snack on January 19, 2008 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: mhr on January 19, 2008 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

Keith: Wrong. Holton's book is VERY worth reading. No, he's not Charles Beard, but he offers a strong, and quite convincing, take on the economic angle of ALL the Founders, whether they later became Federalists or Anti-Federalists/Republicans.

Martin Gale: Excellent catch on the Lincoln angle. Tho Lincoln made his appeal, in the days immediately afterward, he readied the provision ship for Fort Sumter. As per the "not lifting a finger," that was the Republican platform.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 19, 2008 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

You are the one who is peculiar. Ellis does not say that Obama can make this approach work - maybe yes, maybe no. I call your attention to today's message from Kos: Obama isn't Democratic enough. You and Kos are locked into the 20th century. Most voters are sick of both parties. More and more are listing themselves as independent or undecided. When Democrats jump all over Obama for saying that Reagan changed American politics or that some Republicans have done good things, they show their retro paintjob. The most partisan people win the nomination and lose the general election or are ineffective if elected.

Look at the Sacramento bee editorial today endorsing Obama (www.sacbee.com/110/story/646229.html). ""Since her husband's first term, politics ahs become increasingly polarized, the partisan fights more brutal. The Clintons were both aggressors and victims in those wars."

We've had gridlock since 1993, and almost 20 straight years of a Bush or a Clinton in the White House. Hillary is a smart, detail minded person who would like to impose top-down solutions but can't work with bureaucracies or the other party. She's probably more focused on details than Bill. Barack is less concerned with details (like Reagan) but more concerned with changing the tone of politics and shifting gears. Compare the writings and speeches of Samantha Power (o advisor) with those of Richard Holbrooke (C advisor) on Iran and related issues- there is a difference that should be obvious to an 11th grader.

Either Barack or Hillary will be wildly demonized in the general election. If Hillary is somehow elected, I expect more gridlock and continued military escalation in the Middle East. The one thing that the President can do without Congressional assistance is launch missiles and start wars. General Petraeus, a politician in the mode of Douglas MacArthur, will be braying like a beast as the election draws near.

No more Bushes, no more Clintons

Posted by: maracucho on January 20, 2008 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

Why Kevin do you assume Obama is sincere? His core supporters like the idealism implied by the message of bipartisanship, let's bring people together and change the world all that other idiotic shit - so that's the message he sells. And really, what choice does he have? He has no serious record, no real ideas, a resume that suggests he should be running for presidency of a nice left leaning law firm, not president of the most powerful fucking country in the world. He's all about the rhetoric of idealism - but I for one don't for a second think he actually believes in this shit he's peddling - if he does he's not nearly as smart as I tend to think he is - if he does then he and the country are in for a very rude awakening should he get to the White House.

Posted by: oot morgsten on January 20, 2008 at 7:37 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans will nominate McCain ,A CONSERVATIVE HATED BY THEIR BASE, who will appeal to many independants and moderate Democrats.We will engage in arcane arguments over Obama's view of Reagan and his political "trajectory" and nominate Clinton who will not appeal to many indepedants and moderate Republicans.So we lose again and you brilliant political scientists can bitch about the Iraq war as it goes on to its ninth year.

Posted by: AJSuri on January 20, 2008 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

It’s a wild thought that our founding fathers were dealing with new institutions that they created. No way could they foresee how things would turn out. This would seem to especially apply to political parties and factions that would exit outside the institutions and evolve in a significantly different world than previous political factions.

Bi-partisanship is overrated. It comes and goes with the vary levels of consensus that come into being regarding different issues. Seems that it would be difficult to work with bipartisanship as a separate concept. Sometimes it is possible and you go for it. But at all times, you push toward whatever consensus you can get for your position on an issue without any control over what members of existing political factions support your position.

Bottom line, I don’t have any faith in Broder-like bipartisanship, i.e., pursuit of bipartisanship just for the sake of it. It could actually lead to bad policy.

Posted by: little ole jim on January 20, 2008 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

To get the changes Progressives want, we need a super majority in Congress and the Senate. The question for me is who is going to energize Dems and engage enough Independents to get more Dems elected down ticket? Regardless of HRC's merits, I don't honestly think that she can get more Dems elected. Someone upthread made an excellent point about how ineffective 50+1 has been for BOTH sides.

Posted by: pollyanna on January 20, 2008 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK
It's better to have the ideal of overcoming partisanship, and reluctantly engage in it when necessary, than to fully embrace it and never even try to rise to a higher standard.

I don't think partisanship, per se, is a problem. What matters is one's attitude towards ones political adversaries. It is possible to disagree with people and still respect them. To dismiss the concerns of an opposing party as illegitimate is indeed poisonous.

Posted by: mattski on January 20, 2008 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

Who was more partisan than John Adams and Thomas Jefferson? Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, making it a federal crime to criticize the president or congress (which was itself dominated by Adams' party--Federalists) Federalist judges then proceeded to convict members of Jefferson's party (Democratic Republicans)under the Act for criticizing Adams. When Jefferson became President in 1800 and his party took over congress they proceeded to impeach Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase for his role in convicting Democratic Republicans under the Alien and Sedition Acts.

If the framers are the model presidential candidates Obama should be screaming for impeachment of Bush and Cheney at the top of his lungs, and accusing John McCain of complicity in war crimes.

Posted by: ibew520 on January 20, 2008 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK


I would hope that Holbrook is "no Charles Beard" because the Beard hypothesis was demolished half a century ago. Now, maybe Holbrook does have a thesis that is both provocative and convincingly argues that Alexander Hamilton, Tom Paine, Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr somehow shared economic common ground. Other than believing in currency and private property, I'm not sure what that common ground would be. Hows about giving us the nickel summary and telling us how they agreed with each other. Hint: simply saying that they all opposed paper money and easy credit (almost certainly untrue) doesn't count as a summary of an argument.

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