Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Audacity of Unity

It’s interesting that so few discussions in the media of Obama's Eighteenth of March Speech have focused on its core theme: "how hungry the American people [are] for this message of unity." This story seems significant to me, because for many reasons, Obama is the first presidential candidate who could actually deliver on it.

Obama is calling for the overthrow of the two great binary paradigms of American politics and society--Federalist/Republican (and its successors) and black/white--that have held sway almost continually since the second administration of George Washington. It is clear that the Founders viewed parties as an aberration and an evil--and for reasons that ring true today: the tendency of factions to throw sand in the eyes of the people and manipulate public opinion to hijack government for their own private ends.

The first opposition political party, the Republicans (ancestors of today's Democrats), came together for two reasons. The first, stated reason was to combat the centralization and hostility to civil liberties of the ruling Federalist administration. The second reason, unstated at the time, was to build ties between the "southern planters and plain republicans of the north" in order to forestall northern attacks on slavery by ties of partisan and personal connection. When the Federalist party ceased to be viable after the War of 1812, President Monroe ushered in the "Era of Good Feeling" by promoting the "amalgamation" of parties--the absorption of the former Federalists into the body of the Republican Party, which now represented the nation as a whole. But a generation of Republican officeholders and professional politicians considered this step as anathema--they needed party competition to justify their paychecks and their existence. The professional pols joined forces with frightened slaveholders to destroy the presidency of John Quincy Adams and permanently enshrine the "two-party system" in American politics.

The public has never really liked this binary division into parties, and at moments of crisis--foreign attacks, civil war--has abandoned it and identified as Americans. But because the two systems of division, party and race, are self-reinforcing, efforts to transcend partisan division have always been scuttled by the politicians' strategic deployment of racial division.

What Obama is proposing is revolutionary, while at the same time it is profoundly conservative--it draws on the founding documents and proposes to redeem them by exorcising them of the slavery that disfigured them at their birth. Because he in his own person ("seared in my genetic makeup") reconciles the dichotomy of black/white, he offers for the first time a way out of the dichotomy of Republican/Democrat and an opportunity for America to truly "live out the meaning of its creed."

Even as they applaud his eloquence and courage, the punditocracy have largely ignored this aspect of his speech, which strikes at the heart of the divisiveness that provides them with an audience and a job.

We are challenged as well. We need to take seriously Obama's call to believe in one America, and not be locked into a dichotomy of "them" and "us." We need to view the Democratic Party as a vehicle to restore--or more accurately, to elevate for the first time--the fundamental values of "e pluribus unum," and avoid the trap of regarding our party as an end in itself--thus perpetuating the vicious system of divide and rule that has governed us for more than 200 years.

Cross-posted from Daily Kos

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gerry's Chutzpah

In 1992, I contributed $10 to Ferraro's senate campaign. Big mistake. Ferraro's people called me more times over the next many months than a telemarketer trying to get me to extend my auto warranty. Not only did I get call after call to make additional contributions to her campaign, I actually got calls asking me to help retire her campaign debt so she could more plausibly qualify for a plum job in the Clinton Administration. It would not have surprised me to be asked to contribute to help her build a deck off her kitchen. Shameless--which is probably why she gets along so well with the First Family of Chappaqua.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer suspicions

Elliot Spitzer has been such a sanctimonious prig that everybody who has dealt with him is happy to see him go down. Which testifies to the brilliance of going after him--nobody's going to stand up for him, and probably nobody is going to look into how the evidence against him was gathered.

My guess is they were tapping his phone and came up with the calls to Emperors Club VIP, then worked back to the payments, and not the other way around. Can I prove it? Obviously not. And just like the question of how CBS got a copy of the Texas Air National Guard memo on George W. Bush typed on a modern word processor, chances are nobody is going to look into it. Too bab. Somebody should.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Silver lining to a long primary season

Is the long primary going to tear the Democratic Party apart? I really don't think so; the Dems will be united against McCain, even if some Independents are up for grabs, and nobody is going to sit this one out. On the other hand, it's something to see the Democrats in Wyoming (all 16,000 of them!) and Mississippi actually getting excited about a presidential nomination for the first time in more than a generation. If the key to change is personal involvement of individuals in the political system, this is essential.