Watch CBSN Live

Column: Politics For The Post-partisan President

This story was written by Charlie Szold, The Eagle

During George W. Bush's presidency, the Republican Party has done what political parties have been doing since their formation shortly after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution - they clawed, scratched and attacked members of the opposing party. In this way they were no different than Thomas Jefferson, who used public money to employ a newspaper editor who attacked George Washington for his monarchist tendencies; or from Alexander Hamilton, who used his prolific pen while serving as secretary of the Treasury to attack James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and all other "Republicans" for their slave-holding hypocrisy.

Before Abe Lincoln was mythologized, he used to publish scandalously tongue-in-cheek letters in local newspapers that often poked fun at people who disagreed with him. One target of his was so incensed that he challenged Lincoln to a duel. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed after Honest Abe decided to issue a public apology in lieu of a political death match.

Harry Truman pulled of the biggest upset in political history in 1948 partly by vilifying his challenger, Gov. Thomas Dewey, R-N.Y., at one point telling a crowd of 24,000 people that a vote for Dewey was a vote for fascism. Dewey was actually not a fascist - just a Republican - but he did lose the election. Truman, on the other hand, was rewarded with another term in office. The history goes on, from the hallowed halls of John F. Kennedy's administration to the furtive and shadowy corridors of Nixon's White House, leading unbroken to the enigmatic tenure of George W. Bush.

Partisan politics is redundant - "politics" is, by nature, partisan. Now we have elected Barack Obama, a "post-partisan" who campaigned on change and difference from the status quo - a man who though provoked by Republican challenger John McCain's assertions that he was a socialist chose to maintain his austerity and focus on his own campaign. Ironically, the most obvious historical comparison to Barack Obama is Dewey, the so-called "fascist" who managed to lose to a president who in three years would become the second least popular American president in history. Dewey chose to remain aloof from the dirty politics Truman was spewing, believing that people wanted a president who acted presidential.

Obama accomplished what Dewey could not. Dewey did manage to stay out of the gutter, but he also turned people off with a cold and elitist personality. Obama managed to stay out of the gutter and also connected with the people on a personal level. The voters of America not only wanted to have a beer with Obama - they also wanted him to run their country.

Now Obama is in a historically unprecedented situation. Overwhelmingly popular, seemingly presidential, enjoying Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, he appeals to a vast cross-section of Americans. Unlike Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi or Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Obama isn't immediately divisive. According to Gallup polls 70 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of him, while only 25 percent do not. Forty-five percent of conservatives approve of him. In 2007, only 8 percent of liberals still approved of President Bush.

If President-elect Obama stays true to this promise and manages to reign in what could be a Democratic Congress drunk on liberal legislation, he could very well lead a historic White House - historic not for its legislative achievements, but for its moderation. Rather than draw power through dirty and divisive political scheming, Obama can draw power from an electorate that has always decried partisan politics and valued cross-aisle partnership. His moderation of his policies since the election is a good sign that he is serious about uniting this country with more than just rhetoric.

Charlie Szold is the Editoial Page Editor for The Eagle. You can reach him at

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue