Progressive Revival

Progressive Revival

Postpartisan, not Bipartisan

One of the most intriguing aspects of the current debate on
the economic recovery act is the strange way the terms “postpartisan” and
“bipartisan” are being thrown around by both politicians and the media.

President Obama campaigned as a postpartisan candidate.  Postpartisan means that politics must
move beyond the current party structure.  A postpartisan vision recognizes that there are many voices in the larger body politic–and
that a good number of those voices have never been heard in the American
process.  Thus, postpartisan, a
sort of generational mantra for those under 40, is an attempt to create new
relationships, draw diverse people and perspectives to a table, and develop
innovative possibilities to address social and political issues.


In case no one in Washington has noticed, postpartisan does
not mean bipartisan.
  Yes, the root word–partisan–is the same, but the prefix is different. 
“Post” means “after, beyond, or subsequent to;” “bi” means “two.”

Now, folks in Washington are a very smart group–they
attended lots of private schools and good colleges and most of them probably
studied Latin.  Yet, every time the
new President says “postpartisan,” they substitute “bipartisan.”  For nearly two weeks now, pundits have
been fuming about the failure of “bipartisanship” on the recovery package.  Republican politicians have asserted
that because they didn’t vote for the act, President Obama’s attempt at bipartisanship
has failed a mere ten days into his administration.  “He’s just like Bush,” some say.  “Bush came to office calling for bipartisanship, but he was
really just the old politics of division.”  In other words, bipartisanship can never work in our
political system.  Someone has to
take charge–be a leader–and enforce their party’s will on the other side.


The new progressive vision is not based in the idea that there
are TWO parties.  “Progressive” is not
simply a linguistic find-and-replace for “liberal” as in “liberal” versus “conservative.”  Emerging progressive politics–and
religion as well–insists that there are more than two voices.  The voices of the common good and the
voices of vibrant faith come from multiple traditions and perspectives, and all
of these voices matter. 
Progressives, unlike old-style liberals, approach this multiplicity with
a certain degree of modesty. 
Progressive politics isn’t about winning nor is it about balancing two
agendas.  Progressive politics is
about setting tables, about hearing and listening, about constructing new
possibilities where none currently exist. 
It is pluralistic and adaptive, not dualistic and winner-take-all. Progressive
politics is not a zero-sum game.


President Obama has long recognized that politics is not
about two parties.  More than a
year ago, he said: I think the American people are hungry for
something different and can be mobilized around big changes, not incremental
changes, not small changes. I think that there are a whole host of Republicans,
and certainly independents, who have lost trust in their government, who don’t
believe anybody is listening to them, who don’t believe what politicians say.
And we can draw those independents and some Republicans into a working
coalition, a working majority for change.”


President Bush promised “bipartisanship,” a bringing
together of two parties.  That
failed.  President Obama never
promised bipartisanship.  He
promised a new era of moving beyond the old two-party politics–he promised “something
different” around “big changes.”  He promised to create something “after, beyond, or subsequent
to” the two-party divide that would include those who have been excluded.  He is trying to forge a post-partisan
path to an innovative future. 

But he is trying to do that with a Congress that doesn’t
understand the language he speaks. 
The congressional Republicans and Democrats have something profound in
common.  They are stuck in a
dualistic world.  How can they move
forward? A good first step would be to remember first-year Latin: postpartisan
does not mean bipartisan. 
Sometimes a world of new possibilities turns on a phrase.

Comments read comments(3)
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Paul in the GNW

posted February 5, 2009 at 4:38 pm

“Progressive politics is about setting tables, about hearing and listening, about constructing new possibilities where none currently exist. It is pluralistic and adaptive, not dualistic and winner-take-all. Progressive politics is not a zero-sum game.”
What does this mean? What is an example of “constructing new possiblities?”
As you quoted President Obama, “And we can draw those independents and some Republicans into a working coalition, a working majority for change”
So progressive post partisanship is simply building a majority voting block. What this looks like right now, is a)sounding reasonable and deliberate in all things, b)giving lip service to respecting opposing views, c)forging ahead with as much ‘progressivism’ as you possibly can.

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posted February 6, 2009 at 1:31 am

Postpartisan, bipartisan, progressive whatever you want to call these political descriptions, if I were a betting man I would say that it will be politics as usual. So far doesn’t it seem that way. A proposed stimulus package that is really a spending bill mostly consisting of a democratic agenda, Obama choices that can’t be confirmed, because of tax or other legal problems. These are the same people that want the average citizen to abide by laws that they won’t abide by. So far it is politics as usual. Not to mention president Obama’s partisan five executive orders. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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posted February 6, 2009 at 11:49 pm

As Joan Walsh at pointed out this week, Barack Obama is the “Great Communicator Who … ISN’T ! ”
Whatever he may have intended to communicate during the campaign (post-partisan not bi-partisan) Obama wasn’t very successful at conveying it. Perhaps that’s because he wasn’t particularly clear himself or isn’t sincerely committed to his enunciated vision.
“Post-partisan” was just a lot of campaign rhetoric he spun to fool progressive activists during the Democratic primaries and caucuses.
Diana, perhaps the best thing you can do now is to admit you were duped … and to stop taking this President seriously. It’s pretty clear that “he’s just not into you” or your progressive politics.

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