Post-Partisan Politics

POST-PARTISAN POLITICS…Historian Joseph Ellis has a very peculiar op-ed in today’s LA Times. The subject is the criticism Barack Obama has received for his message of bipartisanship:

Central to the critique is the claim that Obama’s message flies in the face of U.S. history, that partisanship is, as one critic put it, “the natural condition of politics.”….While you can certainly marshal evidence to support this interpretation, very few of the so-called founding fathers (save perhaps Aaron Burr) would agree with it. And the first four presidents — George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison — would regard it as a perversion of all that they wished the American republic to become.

Now, there’s no question that this is true: virtually all of the founders did warn endlessly about the dangers of faction. However, as Ellis himself points out, within a few years all of them were actively engaging in factional politics whether they liked it or not. So what to make of his conclusion?

Let the argument about the viability and practicality of Obama’s major message go forward. But as it does, even his critics need to acknowledge that he is not a weird historical aberration. His message has roots in our deepest political traditions. Indeed, it is in accord with the most heartfelt and cherished version of our original intentions as a people and a nation.

Consider it acknowledged. But this sure seems like a backward argument to me. If even the brilliant, farsighted political visionaries who wrote the constitution and founded our country were unable to keep to their nonfactional ways for more than a few months, what does that say about the death grip that partisanship has on human politics? And what, in turn, does that have to say about Obama’s apparent belief that he can overcome it?