Post-partisan?

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.

He is being lauded even by conservative pundits, including Rush Limbaugh and Bill Bennett.

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?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

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  • Larry

    First, this post sparks a related thought. One example of the ways our modern society undermines that patriotic sense of the gravity of the office of President of the USA is right after the State of the Union Speech. Both parties are equally guilty. If its a Democrat in the presidency, there will be a Republican response. If its a Republican in the office, there will be a Democrat response. To me, this seems to undermine the gravity of office of the President by treating the State of the Union Speech as a political stump speech. That’s just one example, but I think it’s in the best interest of our country and of both parties to insist on terminating that sort of political one-upmanship.
    2nd, for something to consider re Mike Huckabee, check out –
    http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/the-latest-post/2008/1/7/mike-huckabee-and-the-two-kingdoms.html

  • Larry

    First, this post sparks a related thought. One example of the ways our modern society undermines that patriotic sense of the gravity of the office of President of the USA is right after the State of the Union Speech. Both parties are equally guilty. If its a Democrat in the presidency, there will be a Republican response. If its a Republican in the office, there will be a Democrat response. To me, this seems to undermine the gravity of office of the President by treating the State of the Union Speech as a political stump speech. That’s just one example, but I think it’s in the best interest of our country and of both parties to insist on terminating that sort of political one-upmanship.
    2nd, for something to consider re Mike Huckabee, check out —
    http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/the-latest-post/2008/1/7/mike-huckabee-and-the-two-kingdoms.html

  • Lori

    I know that the quote from Rush is out of context! I was listening the other day and he did say Obama’s speech was inspirational. He quickly pointed out that what he was saying had no content and that while he is charming, he is an extreme liberal. Also, Rush commented on the fact that there is no such thing as being Partisan….it’s a utopian ideal. So this reporter picks phrases that make his point, but gives a false sense of support on conservative side.

  • Lori

    I know that the quote from Rush is out of context! I was listening the other day and he did say Obama’s speech was inspirational. He quickly pointed out that what he was saying had no content and that while he is charming, he is an extreme liberal. Also, Rush commented on the fact that there is no such thing as being Partisan….it’s a utopian ideal. So this reporter picks phrases that make his point, but gives a false sense of support on conservative side.

  • Don S

    Dr. Veith, you make an excellent point. And it is worth noting that Obama’s support is particularly strong among the young, who as a group seem to be less ideological than their elders. I guess it follows, in this postmodern world, that having a firm ideology would be seen as awfully “black and white” and unduly rigid. It’s definitely the case in the world of faith, so why not politics?

  • Don S

    Dr. Veith, you make an excellent point. And it is worth noting that Obama’s support is particularly strong among the young, who as a group seem to be less ideological than their elders. I guess it follows, in this postmodern world, that having a firm ideology would be seen as awfully “black and white” and unduly rigid. It’s definitely the case in the world of faith, so why not politics?

  • Carl Vehse

    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.

    I was slightly older and knew of many who had no such sentiment toward JFK, the “Slick Willie” of the 60s. If SeeBS’s Uncle Walter had told the American people the truth about Kennedy, he would never have been elected President; of course, he should have been court-martialed in WWII for letting his PT boat get run over by a destroyer.

    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.

    With any of the presidential candidates running for 2008?!? Not until they clealy demonstrate they deserve it, and none of them are anywhere near that.

  • Carl Vehse

    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.

    I was slightly older and knew of many who had no such sentiment toward JFK, the “Slick Willie” of the 60s. If SeeBS’s Uncle Walter had told the American people the truth about Kennedy, he would never have been elected President; of course, he should have been court-martialed in WWII for letting his PT boat get run over by a destroyer.

    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.

    With any of the presidential candidates running for 2008?!? Not until they clealy demonstrate they deserve it, and none of them are anywhere near that.

  • Rose

    Obama is the “Prince Charming” candidate. Women love him because he promises to fulfill all their dreams. Obama rides in on his white horse. Many women are swept away although they know very little about him.
    And that may be part of the appeal. By the way, isn’t it interesting that many women couldn’t care less about electing the first woman president? Maybe it’s because that woman turned a blind eye to her husband’s repeated workplace harrassment of women.

  • Rose

    Obama is the “Prince Charming” candidate. Women love him because he promises to fulfill all their dreams. Obama rides in on his white horse. Many women are swept away although they know very little about him.
    And that may be part of the appeal. By the way, isn’t it interesting that many women couldn’t care less about electing the first woman president? Maybe it’s because that woman turned a blind eye to her husband’s repeated workplace harrassment of women.

  • fw

    You hear liberals shouting “USA! USA!” at his speeches because they have overcome their normal cynicism because they again have hope that he is the real deal, not a manipulative, contentless orator .

    Adlai stevenson said “Cicero spoke and they were impressed. Demothenes spoke and they marched. ”

    Dangerous power in the wrong hands. Obama has this power. So vote carefully. But don´t dismiss Obama quickly. His positions are easily known and are very consistent over the years. His speeches provide the clarity and depth to know this.

    Check out this speech of Obama´s on the relation of religion and politics and then try to say that this man has not thought deeply and carefully about our society:

    http://www.barackobama.com/issues/faith/

    I would find it very hard for a Lutheran to disagree with anything he says in this speech.

  • fw

    You hear liberals shouting “USA! USA!” at his speeches because they have overcome their normal cynicism because they again have hope that he is the real deal, not a manipulative, contentless orator .

    Adlai stevenson said “Cicero spoke and they were impressed. Demothenes spoke and they marched. ”

    Dangerous power in the wrong hands. Obama has this power. So vote carefully. But don´t dismiss Obama quickly. His positions are easily known and are very consistent over the years. His speeches provide the clarity and depth to know this.

    Check out this speech of Obama´s on the relation of religion and politics and then try to say that this man has not thought deeply and carefully about our society:

    http://www.barackobama.com/issues/faith/

    I would find it very hard for a Lutheran to disagree with anything he says in this speech.

  • fw

    Compare Obama´s speach on faith to Romney´s speech on faith and then to Huckabee´s. Which man shows the most substance?

    Romney´s speech on faith and politics:

    Obama´s Speech on faith and politics (Keep in mind this speech was made before his run for president):

    http://www.barackobama.com/issues/faith/

    Huckabee:

    The choice is quite clear here.

  • fw

    Compare Obama´s speach on faith to Romney´s speech on faith and then to Huckabee´s. Which man shows the most substance?

    Romney´s speech on faith and politics:

    Obama´s Speech on faith and politics (Keep in mind this speech was made before his run for president):

    http://www.barackobama.com/issues/faith/

    Huckabee:

    The choice is quite clear here.

  • Pastor B

    Might the notion of being ‘post-partisan’ be a bit post-modern. What does it mean? If a partisan is a “fervent supporter of a cause,” as one dictionary defines it, what’s ‘post-partisan?” Someone who isn’t fervent in their defense of a cause, which just might involve being critical of another view? Sounds like the gospel of political correctness to me….and that’s the last thing America needs.

  • Pastor B

    Might the notion of being ‘post-partisan’ be a bit post-modern. What does it mean? If a partisan is a “fervent supporter of a cause,” as one dictionary defines it, what’s ‘post-partisan?” Someone who isn’t fervent in their defense of a cause, which just might involve being critical of another view? Sounds like the gospel of political correctness to me….and that’s the last thing America needs.

  • organshoes

    I blame Rodney King.

  • organshoes

    I blame Rodney King.

  • fw

    Post-Partisan sounds christian to me actually. we look first for common ground. we don´t search agressively for points to disagree on. We seek peace, not a false one, but one where differences are tolerated and respected and still acknowledged honestly. and one where we are all americans. the idea of the “loyal opposition.” does that idea even exist any longer?

  • fw

    Post-Partisan sounds christian to me actually. we look first for common ground. we don´t search agressively for points to disagree on. We seek peace, not a false one, but one where differences are tolerated and respected and still acknowledged honestly. and one where we are all americans. the idea of the “loyal opposition.” does that idea even exist any longer?


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