Instead, the main reason I was attracted to the Obama campaign was its promise of a different kind of change: a new kind of politics based on trying to find common ground with people of different views, instead of dividing people into red and blue, black and white, liberal and conservative. I was attracted by the idea of people sitting around a table trying to solve problems together, instead of fighting one another. If anything, I should be more disappointed by what has happened since the 2008 election than those who are disgusted that health care reform still gives insurance companies so much power, or that we sent more troops to Afghanistan, or that "don't ask, don't tell" is still the military's policy. At least they got some partial results, while I see only a worsening in the tone of our political debate. So I am disappointed that politics is as partisan a battle as ever, and fear, distrust, and divisiveness are still its common tools. But I don't blame the administration for that, just as I try not to second guess their legislative strategies that have disappointed many Obama supporters. I'm just disappointed that more people did not have the same goals as I did.
I should have known better. Nearly half the country never signed on to the Obama campaign at all. They voted for McCain. And nearly half of Obama's voters were originally Hillary Clinton supporters, who were attracted to a more traditional kind of adversarial politics. Of those who started and stayed with Obama during the campaign, it now appears that a good chunk of those people were more attracted to the promise of a liberal policy agenda than they were to the promise of a new kind of politics. That leaves a pretty small minority who actually believed in Obama's vision that we would try to move toward a more inclusive, less divisive kind of politics.
So it is no surprise that we are now seeing people offer the president such advice as that he has to learn to play more hardball, as William Greider suggested in the Nation, or that he should be more confrontational with Congress, as Joe Conason suggested in Salon. And yet . . . Even though I'm not sure that a majority ever fully bought into the hopey-changey-"Kumbaya" vision that is easy to make fun of today, I'm also not sure that a majority wants to see a return to bare-knuckle, knock-down, drag-out, old school politics of the kind that Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon or even Bill Clinton sometimes practiced. As summarized in an article by William Galston in the New Republic:
A just-released Pew survey finds that 55 percent of respondents want Republican leaders in Washington to “try as best they can to work with Barack Obama to accomplish things, even if it means disappointing some groups of Republican supporters.” Only 38 percent disagreed. Conversely, 62 percent want Obama to work hard to cooperate with Republicans, even if it means disappointing some of his supporters.
A recent bipartisan survey—a collaboration between Democracy Corps and Resurgent Republic—mirrors this finding and offers additional insights. By a margin of 67 to 26, the people want president Obama to work harder to find common ground with Republicans rather than simply holding fast to his own agenda. By a margin of 60 to 36, they endorsed the proposition that “Congressional Republicans should be more willing to work with President Obama to find solutions” over the contrary proposition that “Congressional Republicans should do even more to stop President Obama’s agenda because his proposals would irrevocably harm America.”
(still of townspeople singing Kumbaya, from South Park Archives)