Friday, February 08, 2008

Obama's Unity

At the VC, Ilya Somin critiques Obama's reliance on "unity" rhetoric. But I think he misunderstands. Somin is correct that calls for unity can suppress the legitimate political differences that constitute democracy. But Obama's rhetoric, as I've heard it, is a reaction not against the existence of disunity but against the creation of it -- the Rovian politics that actively tries to divide the nation so that it's easier to mobilize your side to a victory against the "enemy."

Juxtaposed against this, I think Obama is right that we should remember our unity as fellow citizens, fellow Americans, neighbors, friends, and countrymen. As he put it in his famous DNC speech:
The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an "awesome God" in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

The line about "slice-and-dice" is indicative -- it's the creation of division that he objects to. Indeed, later on in the same passage he actively concedes political division and affirms the patriotism of both those who supported and those who opposed the Iraq war. So I think it's better to read Obama's unity rhetoric not as a political agenda, but as a critique of a particular political strategy that has been dominant in American politics for quite some time now.

1 comment:

PG said...

Exactly. A speech Obama made in summer 2006, particularly in its closing anecdote, made a positive impression on one of my conservative friends -- simply because Obama argued for extending a presumption of good faith to our political opponents. I think it's a concept that would resonate with you as well, given your concerns about bad faith arguments. Basically it's a political strategy that doesn't assume the worst of others' positions and beliefs -- in the specific instance, that doesn't assume people who oppose abortion are "ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women."

It doesn't mean that Obama himself isn't a stalwart on the right to choose, only that he isn't gratuitously offending people who differ with him.

There's also the kind of unity that one of the Balkinization guest bloggers said he thought would be more possible under Obama precisely because he doesn't have a total policy agenda ready to ram through Congress, but instead is ready to listen to others and incorporate their ideas.