"A New Politics?"


David Brooks describes the stakes in this election as between old and new politics. I take his point, but I do want to insist that this new politics of which we Obama-fans are talking is not some kind of millennialist, utopian fantasy. I don't think Obama has - or anyone ever will - abolish the human nature of political life: its combat, its competing interests, its partisanship, its necessary compromises. If I thought one man could do that, I should be given a Valium and told to take some time off.

No: the reason to back Obama is because this country is in a terrible hole. The economy is headed into the shitter, the dollar is plunging, soaring government debt and individual fiscal recklessness (now rewarded by the Fed's rate-cutting) have created the chance of a serious recession, the US is mired in a permanent occupation of a deeply divided failed state in the Muslim Arab world, and key American values - that we do not torture, that we rescue our allies - have been abandoned by a callow, incompetent president.

In the midst of this, we have a domestic politics that has become poisonously polarized by the cumulative impact of two decades of Dick Morris, Karl Rove-style politics and have lurched from one president whose every sentence was a carefully parsed legalism to one often in total denial about the reality he grapples with. We desperately need not some kind of new politics, but a return to reasoned politics, to leaders who, even when they disagree, can rationally explain how and why.

Americans know we have deeply serious problems and are tired of deeply unserious posturing. Republicans have grasped this. That's why they actually rejected the most polarizing (Giuliani) and cynical (Romney) and facile (Huckabee) candidates, in favor of a serious man, who is at least open to opposing arguments and engaged in more than partisan hucksterism and nasty minority-baiting.

The Democrats, so far, have as well. Obama is simply more capable, more trustworthy, more reasonable and less partisan than Clinton. That's all. He is not a messiah, for Pete's sake, and I'm tired of being told that those of us who support him are somehow irrational or emotional. Above all, he will not breathe new life into the very pathologies with which we have all been consumed for too long. She will. Some of this is her fault; some of it isn't. I see my own attempt to move forward constructively impeded by the emotions she and her husband have the power to evoke. But her partisanship and divisiveness are not in my mind alone. She knows what she's doing - and, in my view, we cannot afford her any more.

If that is a new politics, fine. But only if "new" means an older, calmer discourse for newer, more perilous times. That's what Obama represents. And we have to keep focused on that, unless the easy and familar habits of easy, tired politics prevent us from seizing a moment that history doesn't offer very often.