Monday, January 19, 2009

United We Stand


But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.
-- Thomas Jefferson's inaugural address 1801

We have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America
-- Barack Obama, November 4, 2008.

For all that is new and different about Barack Obama, the message of unity he extends is a time-honored tradition. Since Jefferson took office in 1801, the incoming President has always sought to heal political divisions and make a show of unity. Whether the effort is seen as cynical or sincere depends on your own view of politics, but it's certainly the case that any incoming President has an interest in winning over his doubters and detractors, boosting his popularity and building consensus.

In Obama's case, communicating a message of unity goes to his strengths as politician - a political style that is conciliatory and pragmatic and, of course, his skills as an orator. It will be interesting to see how he goes about delivering his message of unity at the inaugural address today.

Two observations though:

1). For all of the rancor and partisanship in American politics, our country is not nearly as divided as members of the media make it seem. Sure, Obama has his work cut out for him, but "unity" isn't really a problem. We are far more unified than we were in the 1960s, not to mention the 1860s. Or for that matter 1801, when Jefferson took office.

2) Whether it's a Democrat or Republican who takes the oath of office, there's something truly inspiring about the peaceful transition of power - it is an occasion that is still so rare in many parts of the globe. We tend to focus on the many things that are wrong with our government, but seeing the orderly transition of power is a reminder that the fundamentals of our Constitution really do work.

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