I want to make it clear up front that I love Chris Bowers and really enjoy almost all of his analysis. I learn things from him all the time. But there are a couple of areas where I have been frustrated with his take on this election. One has been his position on post-partisanship and another (which is related) has been his consistent critiques of Obama’s choices of themes and phrasing. Booman Tribune readers know that I have consistently eschewed surface analysis of this contest in favor of looking at the underlying code. Six months ago I was writing about the challenge Obama faced because he is black. I talked about how appearing angry was not an option. I talked about how stressing class or populism (a la John Edwards) was not an option. I talked about why his position papers are not much different from Clinton’s (because she wants to appeal to the left, and he wants to ward off criticism from the right). I quickly recognized a concerted effort on the Clinton campaign’s part to engage in dog-whistle politics and make the contest as much about identity as possible. During all this time I have read with some frustration as Open Left has focused on total surface level messaging (often in a Lakoffian framework). But, today, Bowers seems to have finally noticed that there is a subtext to this contest.

…it is worth considering how Obama’s post-partisan claims are actually a coded appeal asking voters to move beyond identity in their voting patterns. Specifically, it might be code for “it’s OK to vote for me no matter who you are,” which certainly is an important message for an African-American presidential candidate to make. While we here at Open Left have repeatedly detailed the many ways that Obama’s claims of post-partisanship don’t make any sense on the surface, perhaps we should consider that there is an underlying code to the message.

Hell yes, there is an underlying code to the message. A cynical person would say that Barack Obama is not post-partisan at all, but merely pursuing the only realistic strategy for overcoming the obstacle his identity presents. Except, that would be to ignore that Obama has always used this kind of political messaging. His temperament and political instincts are in sync with the only available strategy for him. His politics aren’t cynical (at least, not by standard measures).

Provided that an electoral campaign is ethical and promotes decent policies, the only important standard is whether it is effective. By that measure, Obama’s campaign has been a stunning success. The odds of Obama pulling this off were not good, and he’s done it. And he hasn’t done it by making a bunch of phony promises or by demonizing the other side, or by making sure he ‘frames’ every comment in a progressively orthodox way. In fact, he would not have succeeded if he had put out an overtly progressive platform, or if he had engaged in class outrage (like Edwards), or if he had only had bad things to say about Republicans. That’s not to say that he has never reinforced some negative stereotype about Democrats. He isn’t perfect, and some of his efforts to appear reasonable have been somewhat self-defeating. I am not suggesting that all of Open Left’s criticisms have been without merit. But they have been startlingly lacking in sub-surface analysis.

I also think Open Left’s critique of post-partisanship is a backward looking critique that takes no account of the appropriate kind of politics for a new era where Democrats hold all the levers of power (outside the Supreme Court, of course). But I wrote about that here.

0 0 votes
Article Rating