Joseph Ellis on Obama’s Hope Message

Whole article here.

It begins:

Alively debate has developed in these pages and in the blogosphere about the viability of Barack Obama’s politics of hope. Critics of Obama’s promise to bring us together — blue states and red, young and old, women and men, blacks and whites — have described his vision as a naive pipe dream that would be dead on arrival if he were elected president.
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.” Zero-sum, “I’m right, you’re wrong” battles are fundamental to the republic. From the beginning of our history, so the argument goes, an Obama-like message has been a rhetorical veneer designed to obscure the less-attractive reality of irreconcilable division and an inherently adversarial party system.
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.
The watchword for all the founders was not “the people” but “the public,” which they understood to mean the collective interest of the citizenry, more enduring than the popular opinion of fleeting majorities. The great evil, they all agreed, was “faction,” which meant narrow-minded interest groups that abandoned the public in favor of their own sectarian agendas, or played demagogue politics with issues in order to confuse the electorate.

It concludes:

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.
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Published in: on January 19, 2008 at 12:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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