[digg-reddit-me]Arnold Schwarzeneger brilliantly demonstrated the idiocy of postpartisanship in his appearance on This Week:
The policy position Schwarzeneger is defending here makes a lot of sense – as you can see if you check out a more in-depth clip. But his justification is typical of the conventional definition of postpartisanship (and it’s close cousin, bipartisanship). I tried to make a distinction during the election battle between a “bipartisan McCain” and a “postpartisan Obama.” I described the difference between the tactic of bipartisanship which ” is about compromise, getting things done, protecting the status quo, and consenus” and postpartisanship which is “a specific approach to governing that calls for bi-partisanship as a tactic to neutralize certain issues while advocating common sense, a focus on the long-term, and an emphasis on ‘tinkering’ to deal with more significant issues.” I think this distinction still makes sense but the terms are so often used by politicians seeking political cover that defining them almost seems pointless.
So, I’m making here an additional distinction – between anti-partisanship and post-partisanship. A significant amount of the rhetoric about partisanship, bipartisanship, and postpartisanship by politicians is really about anti-partisanship. McCain claimed he was being “bipartisan” because he vocally opposed some of his party’s positions. His whole maverick persona was based on his bucking of his party on certain issues. On these issues, McCain became a partisan for the Democratic positions. Joe Lieberman who also claims the mantle of “bipartisanship” has a similar political profile – as he likewise became a partisan for the Republicans on those issues on which he agreed with them. The more appropriate description of this attitude is not “bipartisan” but anti-partisan. It is not about reaching across ideological or party lines – but about rejecting one’s own party or team. Similarly, Schwarzeneger here states that if both parties oppose something, it must be good for the people. This is an insight into the anti-partisan mindset – that views parties themselves as perverting democracy.
There is an essential truth to this anti-partisan idea. Glenn Greenwald, a prominent liberal partisan, for example admits that “no party has a monopoly on good ideas and there’s nothing wrong with compromising with the other party when doing so yields superior policies.” Schwarzeneger makes a similar point in the longer clip, and Obama has made this point prominently as well:
I’m a Democrat. I’m considered a progressive Democrat. But if a Republican or a Conservative or a libertarian or a free-marketer has a better idea, I am happy to steal ideas from anybody and in that sense I’m agnostic.
While everyone seems to agree that partisanship can be limiting and blinding – and that we should be willing to take the best ideas of our opponents – there is less agreement on what the right approach should be. Greenwald, an unabashed partisan, included the caveat: “bipartisanship for its own sake elevates process over substance.” He frequently rails against bipartisanship which he often sees as a cover for Democrats to cave in to Republican instransigience. And he certainly has a point – as any look at the Democrats in Congress under George W. Bush will reveal. Governor Schwarzeneger sees partisanship as his enemy – and he often takes on Republicans with the support of Democrats and vice versa. From the clip above, you get a sense of his approach.
And then you have Barack Obama. He clearly sees the problem with partisanship; yet he has not adopted the anti-partisan approach of McCain and Schwarzeneger. He almost always favors liberal and progressive policies – and rarely rejects his party to work with Republican partisans. But he does work with Republican partisans – he seeks common ground, civil dialogue, and an engagement with the ideologies that motivate the Republican party. You can see this in his initial health care plan – which did not inclued a mandate due to a desire to limit government coercion. You can see this in the tax cuts that made up more than a third of his stimulus bill. You can see this in his pivoting towards entitlement reform and a plan to reduce the deficit. You can see this in his overall approach to the financial crisis – which is clearly Keynesian, but leavened a Hayekian acknowledgment of the limits of economics and central planning.
Obama’s post-partisanship is a flexible and pragmatic set of beliefs in honest engagement with those beliefs that oppose them. He does not define his politics by standing in between the parties or against one party of another. Rather, he is an unabashed liberal who takes conservative critiques of liberalism into account, and who continues to seek civil dialogue and engagement with his opponents. Greenwald criticized Obama’s approach to partisanship for being about process – and it is about process – but that is it’s value rather than it’s shortcoming.