Post-Partisanship Postponed
08-27-2008
Last night’s speeches by former Virginia Governor Mark Warner and Senator Hillary Clinton offered up a telling juxtaposition. Warner’s keynote address was full of the sort of post-partisan rhetoric that propelled Barack Obama through the primary season to the nomination. Just as Obama has done on many occasions, Warner spoke of how the power of bi-partisanship can nurture both good government and the entrepreneurial spirit. But my guess is that in the impending partisan battle now clearly taking shape in the political environment, Warner’s comments will quickly be forgotten.
 
In contrast, Hillary Clinton provided what will likely be the template for the fall campaign. She combined slashing attacks against the Republican opponent with a recitation of traditional Democratic policy positions on issues like health care, middle-class tax relief, and the environment. Whether you believe the sentiments expressed in the speech were heartfelt or not really depends on your prior opinion of the senator (like everything else), and some will argue that Clinton could have made a stronger case for Obama’s leadership potential, beyond their shared policy preferences. But my sense is that she did what was necessary to unify the party and preserve her own political future. Still, we won’t know for some time whether Clinton’s disaffected supporters will follow her onto the Obama campaign bandwagon.
 
In the end, I think that these two speeches on the same evening, one post-partisan and the other firmly partisan, underscore just how difficult it will be for Obama to walk the post-partisan walk this fall, given that Democrats seem increasingly anxious about the looming partisan battle. Even watching on television, you could feel the palpable sense of relief among delegates, as Clinton and several other speakers finally tore into John McCain and the Republicans. Given that so much of what Mark Warner said would fit nicely into an Obama stump speech, I was amazed at just how out of place his words seemed last night.


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