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Barack Obama is Politics in Three Dimensions

November 26th, 2008 by Max Gladwell · 10 Comments

Right-wingers and Left-wingers need to wake up. The election of Barack Obama has rendered irrelevant your outdated ideologies.

A funny thing happened yesterday. An elder family member of ours, who voted for McCain-Palin and can be described as quite socially conservative, said to us, “You know, I think this Barack Obama might be OK.” She said it with sincerity, optimism, and a smile. Later that day, we caught a bit of Countdown with Keith Olberman, in which the Left began to express doubts about Obama’s cabinet picks, such as keeping Gates at Defense, along with his broader policy plans. Then we flagged this piece on AlterNet: Watch out for Obama’s Team Selling Conservative Policies as Progressive Politics.

It’s incredible how quickly things can…change. Obama hasn’t even taken the oath of office, and already he’s changing people’s minds.

The election of Obama represents a major shift in attitude toward American politics. We’d go so far as to call it post-partisan. The two-dimensional, left-right politics of the past are no longer sufficient or relevant. They’ve been rejected, specifically by the 80-million-strong Millennial generation, who truly won this election. This is a new era. If you want to be a part of it, and you want to keep up and have a voice, you have to come to terms with this new dynamic. Just as it’s no longer black versus white, it’s no longer left versus right. It’s not that simple. Obama represents a new mental model. It’s politics in three dimensions.

Hillary Clinton is a prototypical Democrat. She’s the Democrat’s Democrat, complete with all of the baggage. Obama, on the other hand, is a Democrat in name only. He is something altogether different. He didn’t reinvent or reinvigorate the Democratic party. His was not a victory for the Democrats. It was a victory for post-partisan politics. If he could have been elected as a third-party candidate, he would have. If the Democrats were the party that had screwed things up for the past eight years, Obama could have just as easily run as a Republican. His is not an allegiance to party but to the heroic ideal of what it means to be an American. (It should be noted that liberals evidently now prefer the term “progressive”. Sorry, but traditional liberal thought is no more progressive than traditional conservative thought is “compassionate”. It’s a nice attempt at rebranding, though.)

The AlterNet piece by David Sirota is clearly part of the old mental model. The piece is grounded in this idea of the left-right spectrum with a mythic center. Is the country left or right of center? Will Obama govern from the center-left or the center-right?

How about neither?

Sirota and his ilk fail to acknowledge the third dimension, where an individual can hold policy positions from both sides of this otherwise false choice. Where they can choose neither side and carve out their own, unique positions that have no party affiliation. This is not just Independent. It’s beyond that. It’s where the principles of reason and pragmatism trump dogma and ideology. Where we look at the facts and circumstances and make informed decisions that make sense. That is how Obama is governing. It’s why he chose Clinton for State and to keep Gates at Defense. It’s why he’s drawing so much from the former Clinton administration while considering many Republicans for key positions.

The Left wants to say that this doesn’t represent “change”, as if they expect Obama to wantonly de-Bushify Washington. That’s what was done in Iraq after the invasion. If you recall, the de-Baathifiation of Hussein’s regime was the single biggest blunder of the war (following the invasion itself, of course). It just made no sense because a lot of those people were not entirely loyal and were the only ones who knew how anything worked.

In terms of gauging policy, though, this outdated idea of the left-right spectrum can come in handy. This is our rule of thumb: if the left hates it and the right hates it, it’s probably good policy. Otherwise, this mode of thought and outlook has outlived any usefulness it may have had.

When it comes to rebuilding the Republican brand, the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt will be well advised to consider this new political reality. Even Arianna Huffington acknowledges that we need a strong Republican party to balance the power. Today, there’s scarcely a party to speak of, much less one that has its own identity. As we move into the era of three-dimensional politics, where the Millennial generation is sure to have a considerable say in who gets elected, we have a few suggestions for the Republicans.

1. Get back to basics. Despite the fact that a Democrat won 53% of the popular vote, the country is fiscally conservative. This stands to reason, as no one likes to waste money. Bush, however, has been anything but fiscally conservative. Tax breaks are fine so long as you can afford them. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are the backbone of our economy. The free market works, provided there are rules and they’re enforced. Government has a vital role to play. Acknowledge that. But also realize that hypocrisy will always be exposed.

2. Sideline the religious right. Yes, Palin, this means you. The Republican party has been largely undone by this zealous and fervently ideological minority that helped elect Bush…twice. This voting block should be relegated to the equivalent status of the Green Party on the Left. Think of them as your crazy uncle who you only have to see twice a year for holidays. You can count on their support because they have no one else to vote for, but they should not be leading the party…lest you wish to be the permanent minority party. The sooner you realize this, the sooner the Republican brand can recover.

3. Tap into the more progressive and secular conservative thought leaders and make that your foundation. These include many of the people who ended up supporting Barack Obama: Colin Powell, Christopher Buckley, Christopher Hitchens, Meg Whitman, and Peggy Noonan to name a few. The hopes of the Republican platform rest with them.

4. Court younger candidates. You’re now angling for the votes of 80 million young Americans–a million more than the Baby Boomers. This massive voting block needs to identify with its candidates, which means candidates need to speak their language. A candidate in his or her 60s may not stand a chance of winning the presidency for another generation…until the Millennials themselves are in their 60s.

5. Be more like Obama. He won 53% of the popular vote. You have no choice but to lure his voters to your platform. If this election was any indication, the politics of fear and division are largely things of the past, especially with the Millennials. This means running campaigns of ideas. Obama doesn’t own the notions of hope and optimism. Listen to the voters and come up with an authentic and original platform.

How is this relevant for Max Gladwell? It’s clearly a part of the heroic ideal. We can no longer affort to choose our candidates based on ideology and single policy positions, whether those are abortion, taxes, or the environment. We need to pick our candidates first and foremost based on their competence and intelligence. We need to think big picture and make compromises. The need for smart leaders from both parties has never been greater. Our survival as a nation and civilization depends on it.

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Tags: Politics