Monday, January 26, 2009

The Bipartisan, the Nonpartisan, and the Antipartisan

E. J. Dionne's latest column amount to a full-frontal attack against one of the more audacious positions that Barack Obama has tried to assume in shaping his new Administration:

Beneath the warm pledges of bipartisanship and the earnest calls for cooperation in the midst of a grave crisis lurks an unpleasant fact: From the moment it loses power, the opposition party turns to the task of getting it back.

However, when he tries to muster data in support of his position, I find that I do not necessarily interpret his data the same way he does. The data I have in mind come from the Gallup Organization:

On Friday, Gallup released a report that’s devastating to the GOP. The survey, based on 30,000 interviews over the course of the year, found that in 2008 an average of 36 percent of Americans identified themselves as Democrats and only 28 percent called themselves Republicans. Gallup noted that this was the largest advantage of the Democratic Party in more than two decades.

For some Republicans, these numbers counsel short-term prudence and suggest the need for at least a semblance of cooperation with Obama, whose personal popularity is soaring. Former Rep. J.C. Watts, once a member of the House Republican leadership, cautions his party: “Be careful how you throw eggs at this parade.” In Congress, this approach is reflected in the efforts of some Republicans to alter but not oppose Obama’s economic stimulus package.

But in what might be seen as a GOP good cop/bad cop division of labor, others in the party are already savaging Obama and his plans.

It seems to me that the more "devastating" part of the Gallup poll is that 36% segment that does not identify with either Democrats or Republicans. I read this as an indicator of just how fed up the electorate is with the status quo of our political system (which includes the historical ignorance of dismissing third parties as irrelevant). It may even indicate that the "change" for which that segment voted was a change in that status quo, seeing (or hoping for) an Obama who would bring new "rules of the game" to that system.

We need to learn more of the usual demographic details about this segment of the Gallup sample space. When times are good, those without preference figure that it does not matter very much whether Tweedledee or Tweedledum is in power; and they are probably right. However, in a time of crisis (particularly a crisis of personal cash flow), that indifference indicates the feeling that neither side is going to get us out of the mess. One way to combat that indifference is with those skills of community organizing of which Obama is so proud. However, on the basis of yesterday's attempts (by all the usual suspects) to survey the past week, I did not see any indicators to change the opinion of those who believe that neither political party is showing any signs of advancing economic recovery.

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