Our Quote of the Day comes from centrist writer John Avlon, who worked for then-President Bill Clinton and during 911 was working for New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He notes how some are puzzled by how Barack Obama has been doing political business…as a centrist...trying to unify the country and indicating that respecting and reaching out to opponents isn’t a sign of weakness:
This is what a centrist transition looks like.
Professional partisans in and around Washington have been puzzled by Barack Obama’s moves as president-elect. Conservatives have been confused by the substantive centrist Cabinet picks — this isn’t the socialism they’d been screaming about. Liberal activists are bracing themselves for the latest betrayal after the reappointment of Bob Gates. Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas Frank spoke for all frustrated ideologues out there when he complained, “Obama should act like he won.”
For those conditioned to a vision of politics as an ideological blood sport between red states and blue, attempts at uniting the nation seem saccharine and unsatisfying. They are accustomed to presidents paying lip service to the idea that what unites us is greater than what divides us, always with an implicit wink to operatives off stage. The idea that some people actually believe that love for country should always come before loyalty to party seems impossibly idealistic
There is something about the earnestness of Obama’s supporters that irritates his opponents. We are unaccustomed to inspirational leadership in the United States as of late, and so it’s understandable that some are skeptical.
But this is a day for idealism. Inaugurations are how we mark new eras in American history, and inaugural addresses provide the poetry that can inspire and guide the prose of governance.
According to Avalon, Obama is ” is defining post-partisanship before our eyes.”
Avalon notes some of Obama’s history and the obstacles he will face, warning that he’ll have to use this “centrist carrot-and-stick approach to future legislation.” Then he concludes:
He will need to cultivate a new bipartisan coalition of the 23 centrists in the Senate, of Blue Dogs and Main Street Partnership members in the House. This will be necessary to check the ideological excesses that may be advanced by liberal House leadership — such as card check or the fairness doctrine — as well as to follow through on necessary Nixon-in-China goals such as entitlement reform.
On Election Night, Obama said, “Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.” That will be the challenge going forward, because it runs counter to the institutionalized rules of politics in Washington. There will be mistakes and missteps, but Obama has the advantage of understanding that while party activists are deeply divided, the American people are not.
The red-state, blue-state divide was always bogus, and the play-to-the-base strategy was always morally as well as practically bankrupt. Obama is discarding this divisive old playbook and proving that presidents do not have to be held hostage by hyperpartisan politics. All Americans — especially the moderate majority among us — ought to wish our new president success in moving our nation not left or right, but forward.
Read it all.
And Avlon hits it on the head: for many years there has been a whole culture that has sprung up that best thrives only if the American people are divided and at each other’s ideological and partisan throats. It has a vested interest in the current political culture and tone since it is beneficial to it in terms of both power and money.
If there’s no divisiveness, anger and a sense that if the other “sports team” or its (always evil) candidates wins the country will vanish off the face of the earth, how can partisans get their voters to the polls? They have to be motivated somehow. The idea of base mobilization is a conscious idea and strategy, designed to get the vote out.
If there’s no controversy, how can a story be a compelling or dramatic? No, the media does NOT collaborate on what stories to cove or who to go after, but the word “controversy” is a plus in getting a story on page one or getting lots of air time. And, not uncoincidentally, for getting readers and viewers to come back for more on that hot story. What makes the story hot? The conflict…the emotion.
If there’s no divisiveness, how can a cable or radio talk show host carve out a solid demographic that will return to his or her show (right OR left) again and again and deliver that demographic to advertisers?
What has happened is that the media, talk radio and political cultures have converged in recent years to make demonization, polarization, angry rants, name calling and yelling the way American politics operates.
This modus operendi doesn’t lend itself to centrism…but now — even if his some policies will veer to the left or to the right — there will be a President in office who seems determined touse a centrist model in the way he communicates and the way he tries to garner support to build his political clout.
50+1 is being replaced by We All Are One, which doesn’t mean angry disagreements or an end to partisanship.
Just a renewed recognition that the United States of America is supposed to be “united” — not divided into little groups of (the good and well intentioned) US versus (the evil and dangerous and dishonest) THEM.
US and THEM together make a stronger WE.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.