Welcome. This here blog offers what I learn, in commentary for all its worth. Know that I try to know best, when I know anything at all.

Journey onward!!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Part 2 - Post-Partisan Politics Defined: Descrambling Obama's Rhetoric

Most mainstream commentators have so far confused Obama's hypnotic suggestion of post-partisan politics with some kind of imminently polite, new-age bipartisan politics. They did so because, like all politicians, Obama praised bipartisanship by making the standard cookie-cutter pledges to "reach across the aisle" as president.

It is with great skill that he did so with a straight face because nothing else about his rhetoric had anything to do with praising bipartisanship.

On the contrary, Obama often uses words like "petty," "posturing," and "irresponsible" when describing Washington politics. His conceit centers around the notion that bipartisan legislation has become mired in ideological gamesmanship serving the electability of politicians, rather than be in the service of some higher cause. At worst, cynics argue that bipartisan deals equate to transactional politics whereby opposing lawmakers scratch each other's backs (read: re-electability) without regarding the bigger picture. In other words, even in bipartisan unity, Congress seems more concerned with appeasing the ideological leaning of their constituents instead of solving problems.

Obama attributes the root of this evil to eternal ideological warfare in Washington. To a professed post-partisan politician, unmitigated bipartisanship is tantamount to irresponsible lawmaking.

As I previously observed, railing against bipartisanship like this is a bit controversial to publicly say outright, so Obama did it by throwing trashy yet elegant rhetoric at the "status quo" in Washington. He speaks of going from "ideological and small thinking [to] our better angels," putting aside "stale ideology and petty partisanship, and embrace what works," and even suggesting a type of leadership where "facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology."

Perhaps most telling of all: "[ex-]President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology" or, as he utters in another breath, "wishful thinking and outdated ideology."

Now, I do not ask the reader to swallow all this dreamy and probably hypocritical stuff, but merely to observe how often the word "ideology" shows up in his rhetoric regarding Washington. These sound bites serve as irrefutable evidence of Obama's disingenuous praise for BI-partisanship and his unstated preference for something less shackled to ideology, namely POST-partisan politics. Yet just about every mainstream political pundit or politician continue to wrongly equate post-partisanship with bipartisanship, which makes no sense to me whatsoever; it is Obama's power of unspoken words at work, as I observed in my previous installment.

What Obama should have said outright is this: 'we should supplant the role of partisan ideology in politics with some kind of higher calling, that there exists an overriding ethos of responsibility and pragmatism which trumps the rigidity of ideological belief.'

This is Obama's unspoken post-partisan vision as I can see: a pragmatic approach to politics that separates solutions from their parent ideology. In a post-partisan world, ideological warfare and bipartisanship has its place but in the final analysis, ideology should not be the deciding factor.

For example, if tax cuts work, then let's cut taxes and if spending works better, then let's spend instead but if both works to some degree, let's find a balance and do both; but do not praise or deride a solution for its ideological purity. The central tenet is that a post-partisan solution must be evaluated for its efficacy and relevance to needs at hand, not if it is necessarily right or wrong.

You've heard this concept before, albeit in vague rhetoric, something like 'there is no Red or Blue America, just the US of America.' This particular Obamaism implies that responsible governance should NOT be the following:
  • Ideologically-pure like Mao Zedong's radicalism (read: Blue America) or George W Bush's childish 'good versus evil' stories from the Middle East (read: Red America)
  • Nor ideologically-bound like bipartisan warfare in Washington (read: Blue or Red America)
Rather, responsible governance should be ideologically-free like Barack Obama's post-partisan pragmatism (read: the US of America), maybe.

This is dreamy stuff, all theoretical and a necessarily imperfect framework. The only thing I hope to accomplish with this post is prove that Obama's unspoken post-partisan decree is NOT a call for bipartisan politics. The mainstream media and politicians claim otherwise (1 2 3 4 5), but nothing can be further from the truth. Rather it is a call for a politics of pragmatism over ideological consideration, or a "change" from Bush's naked and inflexible ideological precepts. Unless, of course, if Obama really is an empty suit, in which case I have grossly overestimated him. Only time can tell, and in the meantime I reserve my judgment on the merits of post-partisanship.

So far in these posts, I still have not left the realm of rhetoric and wishful thinking; the larger question of reality and implementation remains. Namely, who makes the non-ideological judgment call on which solutions are efficacious or relevant? Even more vexing, how can a post-partisan ideal, as I outlined above, even be compatible with a democracy in which bipartisanship is an existential requirement? At first glance, these seem diametrically opposed but as I will argue, their coexistence may not be as "new" in American politics as one might think.

What does Obama really have up his sleeves? That is the subject of my next and final exploration (for now).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The questions you raise at the end of this post are the very same I have been wondering about myself. You have a very interesting perspective on the matter, I look forward to reading Part 3.