Over the weekend, we saw “National Treasure 2,” the fun-but-ridiculous romp through American history, in which, among many other incidents, the Nicholas Cage figure breaks into the Oval Office and kidnaps the president (sort of). What struck me was that the president in that movie was not mocked or criticized; rather, he was portrayed as a powerful yet benevolent symbol of America. He was respected, even as he was being “kidnapped,” and the movie gave him a strongly patriotic vibe.
I remember that sense of the presidency with Ronald Reagan, and I am old enough to remember it, which I picked up even as a child, with John F. Kennedy. We haven’t known that since then. I believe the nation, torn by so much divisiveness in our government, yearns to be unified and yearns to rally around a president whom they can look up to and who can bring them together. This, I think, is the primal appeal of Barack Obama. The only Republican who might be able to pull that off is John McCain.
This can be a dangerous sentiment, though, the mood that can turn a nation to a demogogue and a tyrant. These candidates are not that way, but I think we are seeing, for better or worse, a turn in American politics away from ideology. This is being opposed, of course, but those of us strongly committed to an ideology who may be swept away.
Barack Obama is said to embody a post-partisan appeal.
Obama, alone among the Democratic candidates, is not demonizing Republicans, conservatives, evangelicals, or pro-lifers. Which is infuriating a good part of the liberal blogosphere. “Obama doesn’t fit our style,” says one leftist blogger. “He’s not combative. He’s not aggressive. He doesn’t talk about Republicans the way you’d hope he would.”
Similarly, many of us on the right cannot stand McCain. He is right on the war and on pro-life issues, but he is seen to be wrong on immigration, taxes, and campaign finance reform.
Is Obama’s post-partisanship just a way to sell his liberal program? What concessions will he make to conservatives if he really wants to reach out to them? Is McCain’s issue-by-issue approach a sign of fatal inconsistency or signs of a larger post-partisan synthesis?
Huckabee is similarly making a broad appeal, but will his evangelicalism keep him a polarizing figure, or might he too become a post-partisan president?