Terms like “bipartisan” and even “post-partisan” were employed throughout the campaign and are being used now in criticism of the Obama administration that is taking shape.
The problem is that we have gotten used to the notion that bipartisanship involves people from two parties who happen to agree on an issue working together. Thus moderate Republicans and Democrats can get together on points on which they can agree, and that is regarded as “bipartisan.”
Trouble is, neither party has a very coherent ideology, and thus there are always issues on which people who already pretty nearly agree can get together. There is a virtue in ignoring unimportant labels in order to work together on common goals.
I honestly didn’t believe it during the campaign, but President-Elect Obama seems actually to have meant bipartisan. Not merely as in Republican and Democrat, but as in conservative, moderate, and liberal, as in people who actually disagree on substance having an input and a part in the process.
That’s much harder to do, and it involves reaching out to people with whom one disagrees. The complaint has been that Obama has done too much reaching to the center and the right hand side of the spectrum.
But it seems to me that the president-elect regards himself as a liberal, and thus any reaching out would involve reaching out to those on that side of the spectrum. He expects to set policy, as he has indicated in answers to the press, and to have this team carry it out. He will be listening, however, to a variety of voices.
This doesn’t involve merely adding a couple of Republicans of moderate persuasion to an otherwise Democratic cabinet. It involves putting people who disagree substantively in a position to be heard by the president.
I don’t know how this is going to work. If the president-elect is less of a leader than he thinks he is, the result could be disastrous. On the other hand, if he is capable of directing this group of leaders he has put together, which strikes me as a bit like herding cats, he could accomplish something quite extraordinary.
Only time with him in actual power will tell us what the result will be, but I would say that I am more optimistic today than when I cast my vote.
There are some issues on which the cabinet concerns me, particularly the Iraq war, torture, and certain constitutional issues in domestic counter-terrorism. I will continue to watch these issues, and to hope that Obama’s view, as expressed in the campaign, is one he can see through with the team he has assembled.
But overall, think there is much cause to hope this coming administration will be better than I expected.