Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Divide

I think Obama summed up the reason why so many in the progressive blogosphere are having trouble with his administration in his Saturday video address this week.

I have always believed that it is better to talk than not to talk; that it is far more productive to reach over a divide than to shake your fist across it. This has been an alien notion in Washington for far too long, but we are seeing that the ways of Washington are beginning to change. For the calling of this moment is too loud and too urgent to ignore. Our success as a nation – the future of our children and grandchildren – depends upon our willingness to cast aside old arguments, overcome stubborn divisions, and march forward as one people and one nation.

Since its inception a few years ago, the role of the progressive blogosphere has been to "shake our fist across the divide." That was certainly what initially drew me to these kinds of conversations back in 2003/04. First of all, it helped us not feel so alone in our rage. And secondly, that's about all we could do. It was clear that Bush and Cheney weren't interested in anything we had to say. And Congress, even after the 2006 elections, wasn't paying much attention either.

Obama is right that shaking fists across the divide is what those in Washington have also done. Its been interesting to watch the Republicans as they sometimes have to work to position the divide so that they can continue to shout across it.

But one of the things I have questions about these days is "where exactly is the divide we should be shouting across?"

As many have noted over the last few weeks, the Republicans are in a death spiral and shaking fists at them seems to only give them a form of credibility that they wouldn't otherwise have.

So we are increasingly seeing folks develop the divide between themselves and Obama. From the standpoint of many of the issues we care about as progressives, that makes some sense. Obama has provided fodder for that in many instances, just as the Democrats in Congress have been doing since 2006.

The one thing that I'd like to challenge about all of that though, is that we all need to recognize that there is validity to the different roles that insiders like politicians and outsiders like bloggers play.

Obama, as President, is tasked with getting things done - not just espousing his ideals. If you want a look at his ideals, read the commencement speech he gave this week at Arizona State University. When it comes to actually getting things done, he not only has Congress to deal with, he has a huge entrenched system to challenge and move with him...not to mention years of sludge to clean up from the last administration.

I also think that Obama is looking for long-term lasting change - not short-term fixes. That not only means bringing the system along with him, it means doing so in a way that doesn't continue one of the biggest challenges to our constitutional democracy that was left as a legacy of Bush/Cheney...the unitary executive. 

We have heard Obama state clearly on a few occasions that he prefers for change to come legislatively rather than from executive orders. He is well aware that executive orders can be altered in the future at the whim of the person in office. But changing legislation is a different matter.

And this week, NCrissieB wrote a very thought-provoking essay putting forth a theory about why Obama might be sending many of the executive privilege questions back to the courts for a ruling. If he simply negates them by executive order - the framework of a unitary executive is still in place for future administrations to exploit.

The only way to restore our constitutional system of checks and balances is if the other two branches of the government are empowered to weigh in on these issues and do their jobs. Its interesting to me that the framers of our constitution seem to have understood the value of partnership in a representative democracy in ways that we have sometimes forgotten.

As for us progressive bloggers, I think that its our job to hold on to our ideals and shout them from the rooftops- all while recognizing that its a different task altogether to get them implemented. For me, that means paying close attention to judicial nominees and working to get Congress to stand up and do their job. Shouting across the divide means restoring the checks and balances that are provided for in the separation of powers - not just focusing on a President who is but one of those branches.

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