Friday, February 06, 2009

Postpartisan vs. Bipartisan

Diana Butler Bass on the difference between being postpartisan and bipartisan:

President Obama campaigned as a postpartisan candidate. Postpartisan means that politics must move beyond the current party structure. A postpartisan vision recognizes that there are many voices in the larger body politic--and that a good number of those voices have never been heard in the American process. Thus, postpartisan, a sort of generational mantra for those under 40, is an attempt to create new relationships, draw diverse people and perspectives to a table, and develop innovative possibilities to address social and political issues.

In case no one in Washington has noticed, postpartisan does not mean bipartisan. Yes, the root word--partisan--is the same, but the prefix is different. "Post" means "after, beyond, or subsequent to;" "bi" means "two."

Now, folks in Washington are a very smart group--they attended lots of private schools and good colleges and most of them probably studied Latin. Yet, every time the new President says "postpartisan," they substitute "bipartisan." For nearly two weeks now, pundits have been fuming about the failure of "bipartisanship" on the recovery package. Republican politicians have asserted that because they didn't vote for the act, President Obama's attempt at bipartisanship has failed a mere ten days into his administration. "He's just like Bush," some say. "Bush came to office calling for bipartisanship, but he was really just the old politics of division." In other words, bipartisanship can never work in our political system. Someone has to take charge--be a leader--and enforce their party's will on the other side.

The new progressive vision is not based in the idea that there are TWO parties. "Progressive" is not simply a linguistic find-and-replace for "liberal" as in "liberal" versus "conservative." Emerging progressive politics--and religion as well--insists that there are more than two voices. The voices of the common good and the voices of vibrant faith come from multiple traditions and perspectives, and all of these voices matter. Progressives, unlike old-style liberals, approach this multiplicity with a certain degree of modesty. Progressive politics isn't about winning nor is it about balancing two agendas. Progressive politics is about setting tables, about hearing and listening, about constructing new possibilities where none currently exist. It is pluralistic and adaptive, not dualistic and winner-take-all. Progressive politics is not a zero-sum game.

Well, yes, but Obama won an election. McCain lost. It is true that all voices matter, and that progressives including Obama have a certain modesty about their aims and claims. Obama has been very clear that he is open to listening to all ideas and he has gone out of his way to include some from the Republican side. But in the end, whether there are two parties or ten "voices," when votes are cast there are going to be winners and losers. No one know this more than the Republicans who stand to lose a lot if Obama wins and is successful.

Bass is right, though, that Obama won as a postpartisan candidate. He was able to draw into his winning coalition young people heretofore uninterested in politics, disaffected Republicans, Independents, as well as the usual progressive suspects. But Washington is not postpartisan; it is intensely partisan in large part thanks to the tactics of Karl Rove that thrived on a winner-take-all, no compromise philosophy. The 24-hour media thrives on the partisan battle too. You'd never know there was an economic crisis in the country by watching CNN; it's all about the politics.

If Obama is going to succeed as a postpartisan President he is going to have to get outside of Washington and use the bully pulpit of the Presidency to re-mobilize his coalition. They need to hear from him words of encouragement and marching orders on what to do next. He needs them and they need him if there is any hope for change in the way things get done in this country.

No comments: