Now She Tells Us

by digby

I've been listening to Doris Kearns Goodwin drone on and on for the past year about how the country desperately needs bipartisanship and flogging her book "Team of Rivals" as a blueprint for proper governance. (Obama mentioned he read the thing and everyone assumed that meant he was going to appoint a bipartisan cabinet.) Underlying this whole line of argument is the notion that the ideological differences between the parties are somehow insubstantial and that consensus can be achieved if everyone would just "work together" and stop being so difficult.

what Kearns Goodwin wrote just a couple of months ago in the NY Times:

Polls show that Americans wish to move beyond the combination of extreme partisanship and ideological rigidity that has for decades prevented Washington from addressing the serious problems facing our country. They have seen the damage caused by the creation of like-minded “echo chambers” in Washington. Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain would do well to keep this in mind as they choose their vice president and cabinet members.

Here she is yesterday on David Gregory's show:

GREGORY: I want to talk a little about FDR. The comparison has been made more than once now that there has not been this kind of financial crisis since the presidential race of 1932. It is interesting, if you look at his inaugural address, FDR said the following—I want to put it on the screen for our viewers to see: “practices of the unscrupulous money changers”—he‘s talking about the throes of the Great Depression, of course—“stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They only know the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision. When there is no vision, the people perish.”

Eerie similarities in language to the current crisis. This question comes out of this, which is: what kind of vision does a president need faced with a crisis like this?

GOODWIN: What FDR showed was I think two things. That part you just read showed that he understood that it was us versus them, that the people themselves had feared at the time of that crisis that maybe they were responsible for what had happened. They couldn‘t understand what had been going on. So he is saying, no, it is not you. It is them. It‘s this few people over there. And if you band together with me, if you have confidence in leadership and confidence in yourself, then, of course, the fame words, “the only thing to fear is fear itself.”

He was able to project his confidence on to the people. The incredible thing is think about what his theme song was in the midst of a much worse economic crisis, “Happy Days Are Here Again.” He made people feel that the future would be better than the present. That‘s what these two candidates have got to do. Not just talk about the misery, but make people believe their leadership will make things better for them.

GREGORY: What is the difference? Do you see some fundamental difference in the country, in the leadership now?

GOODWIN: The interesting thing is that both candidates are trying to be above partisanship in a certain sense. McCain is obviously trying to run away from the Republican problems of these last years. And Obama has been trying to be a post-partisan candidate. When in a certain case, what FDR did was to say this isn‘t just an election between two men. It is between two doctrines. He laid out the difference between the Republican and the Democratic party, one concerned about government favoring the few and the other one wanting the masses to be sound and that would help the country.

It seems to me Obama is missing a chance. I‘ve thought that all along. My husband is arguing that all along, as an old Democrat. To not argue about the doctrine of the Democratic party. Yes, he wants independents. Yes, he wants to be post-partisan after wins. But right now is the time when the Republican-Democratic brand is so contrasting and I think he has desired to not be in that fight. It‘s not helping him in a certain sense.

This makes me want to put my foot through the television. Kearns Goodwin has been "advising" anyone who would listen for the past year that Americans are demanding bipartisanship and practical comity. Now she says that Obama has been on the wrong track by running as a post-partisan pragmatist and should have been selling the Democratic brand with sharp contrasts.

Luckily, it appears that the American people instinctively get that when one crew has screwed something up so horribly, it's probably a good idea to relieve them of their duties. But that understanding will be in spite of Doris Kearns Goodwin and the rest of the Village Elders who have been telling the country for months that drawing such contrasts is unseemly and that making an ideological argument is boorish and ill-mannered. It was all about "process, process, process" for months --- don't make trouble. Needless to say, none of them were giving similar lectures during the years of thuggish Republican dominance.

Kearns Goodwin's observations were good ones. But sadly, they would have been much more meaningful if, instead of passing out endless mushy bromides about bipartisanship for the past year, she would have said it from the beginning.