Saturday, December 20, 2008

He Means It

I never thought that I would be thrilled by the appearance of Ray LaHood at a podium being announced for an appointment.

In the past, "forming a bipartisan administration" and "choosing the best person for the job" was typically a verbal signifier for being less viciously and openly partisan than prior Administrations, appointing members of your own party to your Administration while being willing at least to appear to hear some of the positions of the other side--a slightly more centrist position, while remaining firmly based in partisan self-interest. Any movement whatsoever from such self-interest was greeted with a momentary surprise, quickly followed by the recognition that this was a change of relatively meaningless degree, more game than qualitative shift.

This time, it's different.

A central--perhaps the central--foundation of Obama's approach is one of uniting people across philosophies and towards action. It was imbued within him from his earliest days as a guiding principle. He learned how to implement this, along with many of its difficulties, in his years as a community organizer. he was able to implement it within what is a typically fractious and bitterly polarized environment at the leading law review in the nation. And he is doing it now.

It will be difficult to contain the egos and ideologies; there will be sharp bursts and tangents of positioning, attempts to gain power, and narcissism in the name of policy that are characteristic of all Administrations. I believe Obama is aware of this, having experienced it in the past, which is why such an emphasis was placed on a campaign team without drama. There will also be elements of self interest throughout, as there should be--if one believes in what they are doing, they should act to protect it.

The problem in the past is that this last rationale has too often become the leading one--power for its own sake has been the goal, with action and ideology the supporting rationale for continuing power. I believe that, for the first time in recent memory, the reverse is finally, actually the case.

We see this perhaps most strongly in the choice of Rick Warren–who I disagree with on most issues–to give the invocation at the Inaugural. Obama is making the issue clear, not merely in soothing platitudes, but in action–we will have to face and work with those with whom we differ in the days ahead. In soundbite form–in the past–that has provided a moment’s self-satisfaction, before a return to the status quo. Today, the time calls for exactly such cooperative effort, and difficulties inherent within it.

There will be efforts to chip away at this by degrees, to stain and mar. Americans recognize genuine action, and they certainly recognize the self-serving pose. Obama is building a team that is aimed towards constructive change. As he moves forward amidst what hopefully will begin to seem anachronistic methods of twisting and distortion, let us hope that we--and he--remember and stay upon this path.