More partisanship, please
Civility is fine. But I want results most – and that means winning.
silver spring, md. — I'm not very interested in what Barack Obama calls the "politics of hope" although it sounds like a book I'd like to read. I much prefer partisanship. In the United States, it's the way things get done.
I do not believe that the election of Senator Obama would cause Republicans and Democrats to suddenly see the light and embrace their neighbors across the aisle, or that it would change their deeply held views about Iraq, taxes, or healthcare. A President Obama may very well set a more noble tone for his administration, but President Carter tried something similar, and look where it got him.
In the contest between what Bill Clinton in 1992 famously described as "change versus more of the same," change is a formidable opponent. The difference for this election is that, so far, the candidate of "change" isn't named Clinton.
Obama seems to have cornered the market on hope and idealism for this election, and he implies that you can't have either if what he calls "textbook" politics runs the White House.
But whose textbook would Obama have us follow instead? The one from England, where a parliamentary system (not to mention a monarch) injects a certain civility into the political machinery? Or maybe the one from the South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu, named "the world's happiest country," by a study measuring well-being.
Here in America, what Obama derides as "partisanship" is actually the way to untangle the gridlock in Washington.
That's what all those "change voters" care about. "Enough already," they're saying, "let's get something done!" After decades of split majorities, narrow majorities, and modest goals set by cautious administrations and Congress, robust legislative majorities and expert practitioners of partisan politics can achieve impressive results.
Imagine what a strong Democratic president and a strong Democratic Congress can do together. If you believe in partisan politics, as I do, it's an opportunity to build something unseen since Franklin Roosevelt – a government that works as a dynamic engine of change.
Partisanship has been a bad word in Washington ever since Ross Perot scared the Clinton White House by turning out millions of cranky, independent non-voters. Suddenly it was popular to be "postpartisan" and break the mold like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But both of these executives have to deal with a strongly Democratic legislature, and when they succeed, it's because of the way they end up playing that old game of politics.
In fact, the fix has been in for political parties for decades. David Broder wrote a book called "The Party's Over" in 1972 and R. Buckminster Fuller predicted parties would be extinct by the year 2000. But here parties are just as intent on supremacy as ever. And until Americans switch to a parliamentary form of government, or public financing for elections, parties that depend on support will continue to seek support, from unions, corporations, churches, environmental groups – all with their own political agendas.
Hillary Clinton was right to note that President Lyndon Johnson got important laws such as the Civil Rights Act through Congress, and I'm hopeful that working with a strong Democratic majority, she can enjoy similar success. Am I the only one who dreams of what a President Clinton and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D) of Illinois – a bright, effective leader in the mold of LBJ – can do together?
I also worry that Obama might make the novice's error that, frankly, Bill Clinton made in 1992 (and Mrs. Clinton is more likely to avoid). As I noted to friends at the time, too many young people got too many good jobs in the White House.
It's a tough business running a country. You need to believe in something better than yourself, but you also need to know how to win in an intensely political environment.
Obama's supporters seem to be inspired by his appeal to our better selves, just as I was inspired a generation ago when Robert F. Kennedy said:
"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
Kennedy, like the woman who holds his Senate seat today in New York, was a keen player of, yes, textbook politics. Like President Clinton (and now, Mike Huckabee), I believe in a place called Hope. As for a political strategy, I believe more in a place called the finish line.
William Klein spent more than 20 years as a political consultant. He currently works as a political professional and blogger from Silver Spring, Md.