Under a Big Mulberry Tree?

Was President-elect Barack
Obama's meeting with Sen. John McCain a "post-partisan"
moment? But hold on a sec. What does "post-partisan" mean?

The adjective partisan
means "strongly committed to an ideology or party." Bipartisan is defined as
"cooperation between two parties to achieve a political goal"; and nonpartisan means "cooperation in
pursuance of patriotic, civic or philanthropic goals."

Wordsmith William Safire (https://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/10/magazine/10wwln-safire-t.html)
tells us the earliest usage he can find for "post-partisan" is a
February 1976 New York Times article,
referring to the "disenchanted electorate" preceding the
Ford-Carter campaign. Safire cites a Christopher Lydon piece: "It is
within the fluid and independent middle. . . that could shape new parties,
realign the old ones or extend the history of erosion into a new
'post-partisan' era."

The President-elect has positioned himself as the new
standard bearer of the "post-partisan" mantle, but it was
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
who turned the egghead-only phrase into a political buzzword.

In his second inaugural address last January,
Schwarzenegger declared: "We have the opportunity to move past
partisanship, past bi-partisanship to post-partisanship. Post-partisanship is
not simply Republicans and Democrats each bringing their proposals to the table
and working out differences. (It) is Republicans and Democrats actively giving
birth to new ideas together. I believe it would promote a new centrism and a
new trust in our political system."

Bloomberg talks about post-partisanship in terms of
"real results," "honesty and common sense,"
"innovation," and "teamwork."

The skeptic (and cynic) in me scoffs at phrases that
seemingly re-state old ideas with new lingo. These kind of linguistic
make-overs feel about as deep, and deceptive, as a marketing campaign. Isn't
"post-partisan" just a new way of saying bipartisan? And
haven't we seen this movie before?

Before Obama there was George W. Bush -- "a
uniter, not a divider." Before that we had Clinton who was going to
"put people first." Even Nixon said the goal of his administration
was to "bring us together." As The
Washington Post
notes: Washington
"has a way of consigning such rhetorical hopes to the partisan waste

Yet, while it's easy (and lazy?) to write-off
"post-partisanship" as mere marketing, promoters of this
"radical centrist" philosophy insist it's something more. Troy
Schneider of the "post-partisan" think-tank New America says:
"one might argue that 'non-partisan' is a clearer description
than 'post-partisan,' and that term is accurate so far as it
goes...'Non-partisan,' however, implies a sort of
split-the-difference neutrality, where balance often seems more important than
finding good answers to hard questions. 'Post-partisan,' on the
other hand, reflects our view that both major parties are fundamentally flawed,
and that we need to look beyond today's left-right, Dem-GOP structures
and stereotypes if we're to have any chance of solving the most serious
public policy challenges."

"Post-partisanship" is about
"crafting solutions and ideas without regard to party orthodoxy, and
working with (or angering, in some cases!) politicians from across the
political spectrum to bring truly fresh ideas back into the public

Mark Satin, author of "Radical Middle: The
Politics We Need Now (https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0813341906/ref=nosim/radicalmiddlenew),"
sees it as a new, and original, political ideology.

"Modern liberalism, conservatism, and socialism
are all 19th century European ideologies Post-partisanship would be the first
genuinely American political ideology. You can trace it all the way back to Ben
Franklin. It was Franklin...who often brought feuding Constitutional Convention
delegates to his back yard, where he had them sit under a big mulberry tree and
hash out their differences."

Satin goes on to list 10 key elements or
post-partisan politics (https://www.radicalmiddle.com/x_postpartisan.htm):

1. Relationships as important as convictions.
2. Criticism well balanced by
self-criticism. 3. Overriding
commitment to dialogue and deliberation. 4.
Overriding commitment to diversity of opinions and perspectives. 5. Compromise not the only endgame. 6. Simultaneously creative and practical. 7. A penchant for big ideas. 8. A bias for action. 9. A concern with values and principles.
And 10. A long-term vision.

Whether you call it "post-partisan" or
plain old-fashioned bipartisanism, polls indicate the electorate is largely on
the same vaguely-defined page. The quadrennial post-election survey by the Pew Research
Center for the People
& the Press
found that 74 percent of all voters, including a majority of Republicans (56%),
think GOP leaders should work with Obama to accomplish political goals, even it
means disappointing some supporters. And 77 percent of voters say Democratic
leaders should work cooperatively with their Republican counterparts, even
though fewer than four-in-ten (37%) say they expect relations between
Republicans and Democrats to get better in the coming year, up from 29 percent
following the 2006 midterm elections.

It's too early to tell if Obama will be "post-partisan"
or simply the new face of old centrist politics. But, it's not too early
to see both the Left and Right struggling with post-partisan blues. Leftists (I
think correctly) worry that, unless Obama is pushed leftward, he won't go
there all by himself. And while an Obama presidency presents numerous political
opportunities for "progressives," the Left's biggest problem
is still the vision thing. The Left is great at analyzing what's wrong
with America
but is terrible at articulating how we get from here to there.

But, even as the Left is underwhelmed by Obama's
pre-inaugural start, the Right is in real trouble. While some conservative
pundits talk as if the GOP simply has to do a better job of "getting out
their message," the reality suggests the problem is much more
fundamental. The Pew poll also found "a significant generational shift in
political allegiance occurring. This pattern has been building for several
years, and is underscored among voters this year. Among voters ages 18-29, a
19-point gap now separates Democratic Party affiliation (45%) and Republican
affiliation (26%). In 2000, party affiliation was split nearly evenly among the

More racially and ethnically diverse than older voters
and more secular in their religious orientation, the climate in which young
voters have come of age, "incline them not only toward Democratic Party
affiliation but also toward greater support of activist government, greater
opposition to the war in Iraq, less social conservatism, and a greater
willingness to describe themselves as liberal politically."

"Post-partisan" or not, the left-handed
Obama appears poised to test Yeats poetic prophecy -- "Turning and
turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer/Things fall
apart/the centre cannot hold..."

We'll see.

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