Obama’s Post-Partisanship and the Founding Fathers

I suspect that Obama critics pay far more attention to Obama’s “post-partisan” message than Obama supporters themselves. Personally I have no illusions that partisanship will end should Obama get elected, and to some degree that might not even be desirable. What is disturbing is that partisanship has increased to an unhealthy degree with many Washington observers agreeing it is far worse than it has ever been in their memory.

I find that the real value of Obama’s approach is not being “post-partisan” but that, unlike many others left or right, Obama shows a willingness to consider the views of others. Obama was introduced to economic ideas which vary from the Democratic orthodoxy at the University of Chicago, and his understanding of conservative objections to liberal policies can be seen in his policy proposals. I recently quoted from a post at The Economist which reviews how Obama’s policies differ in substance from those of the other Democratic candidates. For those of us who hold views which don’t fit into the narrow confines of the partisan Democrats or Republicans, this is what makes Obama’s brand of non-partisanship something of interest.

While I doubt many Obama supporters really support Obama out of an illusion of ending partisanship, historian Joseph Ellis does look at the more idealistic version of Obama as a post-partisan politician. Instead of finding this to be something of an aberration from politics as usual, Ellis finds that Obama’s vision reflects the views of the founding fathers. His op-ed concludes:

There are several passages in Obama’s memoir, “The Audacity of Hope,” that suggest a familiarity with the founders’ legacy. He recalls teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago and always going back to “the founding documents — the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers and the Constitution,” which provide “the record of the founders’ intentions” and “the core ideals that motivated their work.”

Still, his stump speeches tend to cite Abraham Lincoln as his favorite political visionary. But then, Lincoln traced the source of his own inspiration back to the founders, who “four score and seven years ago” had called on Americans to embrace “the better angels of our nature.”

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.

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