Senator Barack Obama has referred to the presidential campaign this year as being "post-partisan."
I do not doubt that he wants it to be that way but the statement reveals a naive side that is striking.
A partisan is someone who "takes one side, or strongly supports someone who takes one side." A secondary definition adds the idea of emotional commitment to the word and then concludes that a partisan is "blindly or unreasonably devoted." The word, thus, has various shades of meaning for sure. In the first sense Obama’s comment is ludicrous. In the second it is near ludicrous since his followers are the most partisan of all in the present campaign, or so it seems to me.
Obama’s strongest and most devoted followers know very little about him and what he would do as a national leader since none of us knows. He is the symbol of hope, of a new direction, or a new day. Well and good. But in time he will have to define this and when he does he will look and sound more like a partisan liberal with a softer and kinder side. Is he soon to be the prototypical anti-Bush, presenting "a softer, gentler liberalism" as distinct from Bush’s so-called "compassionate conservatism?"
I had hoped that Senator Obama would not fall into the politics as usual track but it now appears that I engaged in wishful thinking. He responds to Senator Clinton in all the ways politicians generally respond to their rivals in our system of things. She goes negative and then he responds with negative. On and one it goes. This is the nature of things and Obama cannot change it for all the good will in the world.
I love the idea of a "post-partisan" leader but it is simply not going to happen anytime soon. Barack Obama is certainly not the person to make it happen. A person with an ideology about how to govern and lead is inherently partisan, at least in the first sense noted above. I have read both of Obama’s books and find them very appealing in many ways. The problem comes in reading how he finally arrives at decisions and where he chooses to go for his ideology. The second sense of being partisan is to be determined but Obama’s followers seem to be even more partisan, in this sense, than those of Clinton or McCain, at least to this point in the campaign. A lot can and will happen over the next months.
Obama had the very real opportunity to begin a process that would help things immensely. He could still help by not attacking John McCain personally for the North Carolina Republican TV ads that use Dr. Jeremiah Wright’s infamous sound-bytes to scare voters.
McCain seems to have genuinely, and rightly I believe, tried to stop them from airing at all. But Obama knows full well that McCain, still only the presumptive nominee of his party, cannot tell a state party what it can and can’t air as a TV ad. McCain has expressed his disgust at this ad and urged that it not be run. What else can he really do?
A "post-partisan" campaign sounds great on the surface of things but I wouldn’t hold my breath for one second that it will happen in 2008. We can thank a host of both Democrats and Republicans for this reality. In some ways we have always known this in American politics. It is the nature of our democracy. But it seems to me following Watergate it got worse and then the Gingrich Republicans mastered it against Bill Clinton and the Pelosi/Reid Democrats mastered it against George W. Bush. I fully expect the Obama campaign’s number one point in the campaign, as we draw near to November, to be that John McCain would just be "another Bush in the White House." (His goal will be to show how and why he will not be "another Bush" and his record suggests that he can.) Ironically, Democrats know this is not true since for eight years they have widely praised McCain as the consummate non-Bush-like Republican.
Many of them even like him but they will do everything they can to spend their huge sums of money to try to convince people that he is now just "another Bush." And McCain’s campaign will surely seek to reveal how liberal OBama’s voting record really is, which is fair game given how he has voted. The question is will they play on race and other related fears to attack him as a person? I hope not but the way the system works it will likely happen whether McCain or Obama want it to happen or not.
What I hope for is that serious Christians will seek ways to avoid the bitterness this all injects into the wider culture. At the end of the day our first concern is not America but the kingdom of God. We can be real patriots without becoming blind nationalists on the one side, or radical America-haters on the other. For us the problem begins with how we understand our own loyalties and where our priorities are truly placed.