Obama and the Post-Partisan Vote

Posted by: eric on January 30, 2009 at 9:46 am

Less than ten days in, the Obama administration is already embroiled in the partisan controversies that have dogged every president over the last thirty years, dispelling any notion of a honeymoon for the new president. With conservatives on Capitol Hill reverting to the attack-dog mode they perfected during the Clinton years, it’s easy to understand why Obama’s liberal supporters are becoming uneasy over the president’s continued efforts to seek grounds for compromise with his Republican adversaries. “If the conservatives are going to act like this is war,” many on the left are saying, “Then we need to start shooting back.”

Obama is not going to be a pushover for the Republicans, as his blunt “I won” in response to some of the Republicans’ more extreme demands in last week’s meeting about the stimulus package demonstrated. But those who want Obama to declare open warfare against the right are missing the point. Obama’s conciliatory moves–from selecting Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor of California’s Saddleback Church, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration to bending over backward to entertain conservative complaints about details of the stimulus bill–don’t indicate weakness or uncertainty on his part. Instead, they reflect his consistent desire to position himself as the first political voice representing post-partisan America.

Like so much of what Obama has done, this strategy has its roots in generational change. In all of his political choices, Obama has his eyes on 95 million young Americans currently aged 9 to 30–the Millennials. The largest generation in history (more numerous even than the Baby Boomers), they played a major role in Obama’s election, favoring him by fully two-thirds (66 percent), as compared with the 54 percent majority carried by John Kerry four years earlier. Out of 23 million Millennial votes cast, this produced a seven million vote plurality for Obama–virtually the same as Obama’s overall margin of victory.

And as we discovered when we researched the values and attitudes of the Millennials for our book Generation We, for today’s youth, the culture wars are over. The Millennials are more accepting of gender equality, gay rights, racial blending, immigration, and divergent political views than any other generation. This is true even of Millennials who consider themselves evangelical Christians (twenty percent of the young people we surveyed–or about 19 million nationwide).

In our surveys and focus groups, we heard countless comments like this one from a Millennial youth in Denver: “We’ve all grown up after the civil rights and the women’s rights movements. So I think we’re more tolerant, regardless of culture or sexual orientation.” Or this one, from a self-described evangelical Christian: “Conservative, liberal–you got to be able to go to both sides. Democrats don’t have all the answers, Republicans don’t have all the answers. Being open-minded to change is what’s important.”

Rather than cultural shibboleths or political labels, today’s young people are focused on the same issues the Obama administration is talking about–the economy, energy, health care, education, and the environment. Many of Obama’s recent moves–from selecting of Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor of California’s Saddleback Church, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration, to breaking bread with a gaggle of conservative pundits, to bending over backward to entertain conservative complaints about details of the stimulus bill–reflect the same theme of outreach.

They may appear questionable from a short-term political perspective; after all, Democrats in Congress have enough votes to pass a stimulus bill without the support of a single Republican. But Obama, we believe, is always thinking about the new coalition he wants to build for the next decade–a coalition in which post-partisan, even anti-partisan Millennials will play a crucial role.

Our guess is that today’s young people overwhelmingly like seeing their president extending a hand of cooperation to politicians across the aisle. And if the conservatives respond by biting it off, they will only further discredit themselves in the eyes of tomorrow’s biggest and most powerful political bloc–and further solidify the Millennials’ attachment to the Obama coalition.

Progressives concerned about the policy decisions that the Obama team will make in the next four years shouldn’t be complacent. History shows that continued pressure from the grassroots is essential to forcing change. But we mustn’t get distracted by symbolic gestures–especially ones whose meaning may not be as obvious as we assume.

6 Responses to “Obama and the Post-Partisan Vote”

  1. Obama Blog Says:

    I didn’t get beyond the Sarah Palin paragraph and wondered this-Has it occurred that if for no other reason Sarah Palin was a living plumbline set against abortion?

  2. dave davison Says:

    Eric: as a grandfather of 12 members of Generation WE, I am delighted to see you taking the lead in helping this unique generation to have a powerful positive impact on civil society and on the future of our planet.

    From your book I know that the Eric Greenberg I met the FiRe conference in 2005 is now a very different man – a man with a mission – for our future.

    I will be in contact with you to see how I can help in a direct way.


  3. Peter Says:

    First off, we can all agree that the “honeymoon” is over. I just got done looking at the several videos that promote this Gen-We movement and I must say that it feels good now, but what are we going to do about all the stated problems in those videos?… What a lot of people don’t understand is that this fictional division of democrat/republican is nothing but a farce. They are obstensively the same. what makes Barak Obama’s recent roughly $800 billion “stimulis” plan any different than George W. Bush’s $700 billion. The rupublicans are up in arms about this one but the first one was ok?… Barak Obama will fail. I have no affiliation to any party other than the fact that I am an American, I understand that our Constitution has been left to the wind and that none of us understand what it means to be a citizen of the United States of Ameerica. We all understand that our TV’s are going to change soon and we’d better be prepared or we might miss the next “Heros” episode or what ever manufactured reality you excape into on a daily basis.

    How many of you know who your Congressman/woman is, your Senators? and how many of you have written them or called them. Gen-We is right we DO have a responsibility to take back what is OURS. To revalue our monetary system, to re-establish The Constitution of The United States and to PRY BACK OUR GOD GIVEN UNALIENABLE RIGHTS as human beings. Lets not let the distractions of what the politicans say get in the way of what is rightfully ours. They DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU! They Will caress your emotional centers with messages Hope and change but will leave you with nothing but the change in your pocket, and even that is only hopeful.

    My Final point is this. We have Abdicated our rights as Citizens to a small group of men and women who think they know better than you or I. They ally themselves with agendas and have in my eyes willfully manipulated the Constitution to nothing. As one man once said

    “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”!!!!!!!!!!!!
    These words were spoken by Howard Beale in the movie Network. Please Become mad, and PLEASE don’t take this anymore. Our Founding Fathers and Mothers are turning over in their graves.

  4. Trevor Thomas Says:

    As a Canadian I have a slightly different perspective on these issues, but can understand where you are coming from. For example, the stimulus bill that promotes “buying American,” this goes over in the States then Obama comes to our capital and relays the point don’t worry it wont affect our neighbors to the North. Something is questionable about that right away…A politician lying to us?

    I don’t think a giant push in America will do it alone, people of our generation spanning national/cultural borders must come together. I imagine a united project to expand technology in renewable resources. The combined efforts of several countries will surely have a bigger impact then one. Isn’t that what globalization is fundamentally all about?

  5. Furguson Says:

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