A Democrat Congress: Where Barak Obama & Richard Rorty’s Thinking Might Take Us

When we wake up tomor­row morn­ing, a new polit­i­cal era will have begun. The Democ­rats will have tak­en con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and per­haps amaz­ing­ly the Sen­ate, sud­den­ly find­ing them­selves polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant for the first time in six very long years. And they’ll have the unusu­al lux­u­ry of decid­ing how they will exer­cise polit­i­cal pow­er. The Pres­i­dent, on the oth­er hand, will now find him­self oper­at­ing in a dif­fi­cult polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment. At best, he can no longer expect Con­gress to rub­ber stamp his poli­cies. At worst, by Wednes­day after­noon, after his post-elec­tion news con­fer­ence, he might find him­self a full-blown lame duck.

How the Pres­i­dent and the Democ­rats move for­ward is a the­o­ret­i­cal­ly open ques­tion. How­ev­er, in prac­tice, the ques­tion of what the Democ­rats will do is a far more inter­est­ing one, part­ly because Bush will real­is­ti­cal­ly be con­strained by a dif­fi­cult war and his gen­er­al inabil­i­ty to adapt, and part­ly because the Demo­c­rat slate is clean, and the pos­si­bil­i­ties for defin­ing their direc­tion are very real.

Mov­ing into pow­er, the Democ­rats will have three choic­es before them. Obstruct­ing reflex­ive­ly (a very real pos­si­bil­i­ty); accom­mo­dat­ing (a very unlike­ly pos­si­bil­i­ty); and devel­op­ing a well rea­soned, defined and pos­i­tive posi­tion some­where in between obstruc­tion and accom­mo­da­tion (a smart but not nec­es­sar­i­ly inevitable pos­si­bil­i­ty). Obstruc­tion seems most like­ly because it’s the eas­i­est thing to do, and because the Bush admin­is­tra­tion’s style of rul­ing invites thoughts of revenge. But it’s not the best way to go. The Democ­rats came back to rel­e­vance not on the strength of their ideas, but on the weak­ness of their oppo­nents. And if they hope to con­vince Amer­i­ca that they gen­uine­ly deserve this pow­er, they’ll need to devel­op a sub­stan­tive plat­form and a smart approach to gov­er­nance in gen­er­al, and the Iraq war in par­tic­u­lar.

Barak Oba­ma is emerg­ing as a very real­is­tic can­di­date for the pres­i­den­cy because, unlike so many of oth­ers, he’s devel­op­ing a con­vinc­ing argu­ment that our nation should come before pol­i­tics, and ideas before par­ty. Right now, his new book, The Audac­i­ty of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaim­ing the Amer­i­can Dream, is #5 on the Ama­zon top sell­er list, when most politi­cians’ books come and go with very lit­tle notice. (The New York Times actu­al­ly just ran a sto­ry on this.) And what makes Oba­ma stand out, beyond his charis­ma, is his will­ing­ness to find a think­ing cen­ter. When asked “How do you make peo­ple pas­sion­ate about mod­er­ate and com­plex ideas?” Oba­ma answers:

I think the coun­try rec­og­nizes that the chal­lenges we face aren’t amenable to sound-bite solu­tions. Peo­ple are look­ing for seri­ous solu­tions to com­plex prob­lems. I don’t think we need more mod­er­a­tion per se… We just need to under­stand that actu­al­ly solv­ing these prob­lems won’t be easy, and that what­ev­er solu­tions we come up with will require con­sen­sus among groups with diver­gent inter­ests. That means every­body has to lis­ten, and every­body has to give a lit­tle. That’s not easy to do.

That kind of mod­er­ate, prag­mat­ic, and not reflex­ive­ly ide­o­log­i­cal approach is more of what the Democ­rats need. They need more sub­stance and, even more than that, some more mag­na­nim­i­ty. It gets back, I think, to how Richard Rorty, one of Amer­i­ca’s lead­ing philoso­phers, starts out his short book, Achiev­ing Our Coun­try. There, he talks about how “nation­al pride,” an “emo­tion­al involve­ment with one’s coun­try,” is “nec­es­sary if polit­i­cal delib­er­a­tion is to be imag­i­na­tive and pro­duc­tive.” At this point, the Democ­rats bad­ly need to put the coun­try before par­ti­san­ship and gen­uine­ly deal with the impor­tant issues that face it. That’s the only way that they will take this oppor­tu­ni­ty — one that is per­haps unde­served — and do some­thing with it that will build a sus­tain­able future for the par­ty and our nation.

Lis­ten here to New York­er edi­tor, David Rem­nick, recent­ly inter­view­ing Barak Oba­ma

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  • Jake Kilgore says:

    Your pro-Oba­ma pro­pa­gan­da mes­sage was all wrong. It demon­strat­ed polit­i­cal cupid­i­ty and stu­pid­i­ty.
    Events since your opin­ion, have ade­quate­ly proven that your think­ing is not sober, objec­tive sagac­i­ty, it is igno­rant extreme left­ist pro-Marx­ist/Black Suprema­cist bull­shit.
    Any idiot stu­pid enough to con­sult this site for dis­in­for­ma­tion and polit­i­cal­ly taint­ed ide­o­log­i­cal idio­cy deserves what they get.
    Your site should be enti­tled “closed ohne cul­ture: none but media zom­bies need vis­it.”

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