"What Obama Isn’t Saying: The Apolitical Politics of Progressivism," Weekly Standard, 8 February 2010.
The words are those of President Barack Obama speaking to Congress on health care reform on September 9, 2009. They contain the secret of his appeal—and the cause of his first-year failure.
His appeal from the first has been to be beyond ordinary politics. Ordinary politics is partisan politics, and to be beyond it is to be nonpartisan or, as sophisticates say, postpartisan. Obama has the cool of a nonpartisan, quite unlike the late Edward Kennedy, who was a paragon of partisan heat and sweat. But beyond politics is not just a mood, it’s a place and a situation. Obama’s aspiration, the goal of his politics, is to put the country in a situation that no longer requires parties, when at last partisan rhetoric has accomplished its task, advocacy is inapt, sympathy and zeal are no longer needed, and postpartisan cool is correct.
Postpartisan cool is not, however, the mere sign of an intellectual fad such as postmodern relativism. One can see Obama’s aspiration in the first Democratic president, Thomas Jefferson, who founded not only the Democratic party but also the idea of party government in America. After forming the first publicly avowed party against the Federalists, he proceeded to announce in his first Inaugural Address that “we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” “Republicans” meant Democratic-Republicans, later Democrats. Yet the best word to describe Obama is progressive, for -nonpartisanship in politics is inherent in the idea of progress.
What every progressive wants is to put the particular issue he espouses beyond political dispute. Obama wanted, and as his first State of the Union address showed still wants, to put health care beyond politics so that he can be the last president to be concerned with it. He did concede in that speech “philosophical differences” between the parties, “that will always cause us to part ways.” But he did not say what these differences are and seemed to assume that they would only infect “short-term politics” by serving the ambitions of party leaders. True leadership in Republicans would require them to cooperate in the reform despite their ambitions and their philosophy. Once the bill is enacted, health care need only be administered by experts whose main task will be to adjust (i.e., expand) its extent and to cover its costs. The principle will have been decided. It becomes an entitlement that is no longer open to political controversy; it is secure from second thoughts prompted by reactionaries.