But there is one aspect of the worldview of many Obama supporters that I find genuinely difficult to understand. These supporters insist that by symbolically including and sometimes compromising with even those on the Right with whom he vigorously disagrees, Obama will be able to chip away at the partisan hostilities and resentments, and erode the cultural divisions, that have inflamed and paralyzed our politics. People on the Right may disagree with him, claim these supporters, but they won't be wallowing in rage, suspicions, and hatred towards him. Instead, they'll feel respected and accommodated. They therefore won't be distracted by petty sideshow controversies. As a result, he'll encounter less reflexive resistance to implementing the key parts of his progressive agenda. A New Politics will emerge: one of respectful and civil disagreements, but not consumed by crippling partisan and cultural hatreds.
The one question I always return to when I hear this -- and we've been hearing it a lot to explain the Warren selection -- is this: in what conceivable sense is this approach "new"? Even for those who are convinced this will work, isn't this exactly the same thing Democrats have been doing for the last two decades: namely, accommodating and compromising with the Right in the name of bipartisan harmony and a desire to avoid partisan and cultural conflicts? This harmonious approach may be many things, but the one thing it seems not to be is "new."
And he points out that this post-partisan strategy was precisely that for which President Clinton was so widely derided. The result of which was perpetual investigations and impeachment over a politically trivial personal matter.
When have Democrats not been eager to accommodate the Right, to sacrifice their ideological beliefs and partisan goals in pursuit of post-partisan harmony, to jettison the "Left" in order to attract the Mythical, Glorious Center? When haven't they done exactly that? Isn't that everything they've been doing for two decades now, what has defined the Party at its core? In what conceivable way is this new, and why does anyone expect that it will generate different results now?
Greenwald points out that we are only at the stage of personnel decisions, so we don't really know what Obama will do, when it comes to making controversial policy decisions. But he will have to make many such decisions. And however nicely he plays with others, some of those decisions are going to piss people off. The question is who.
Reasonable arguments can certainly be advanced in defense of the virtues of Obama's post-partisan theory of politics. But it's simply unreasonable to depict any of it as new. It's exactly what Democrats have been clinging to, desperately and mostly with futility, for two decades at least. Trans-partisan harmony comes only when Democrats agree to sacrifice what they claim their beliefs are and to show contempt for the "Left," and even then, the "harmony" is fleeting, insatiably greedy and inch-deep. It's certainly possible things will be different this time around, but in the absence of actual evidence, it's really hard to understand why so many people have become so intractably convinced that it will be.
We all hope Obama will use his personal charm, the good will he has generated by reaching out to political adversaries, and the political skills of the centrist insiders with which he has surrounded himself to sell policies that will be bold and progressive. Only time will tell if that will be the case. But elections have consequences. Or they are supposed to. John McCain used to say so, as a mantra explaining his support of Bush's radical right agenda. Obama vanquished McCain. He vanquished an already imploding conservative paradigm. He won big. Elections have consequences. In this one case, I would like to see McCain proved right.