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Running For President, Not Party Chairman

One of the more depressing, repeated ideas I've seen in the past year or so have been the swipes at Democratic candidates - mostly Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama - for supposedly being insufficiently partisan. That is, attacks on them for acknowledging some Republican person or idea as something other than the embodiment of all known evil. Right now some folks are trying to make the argument that Sen. Obama is betraying liberalism by comparing the incremental progress of the Clinton era versus sweeping change as embodied by Reagan.

Some are even trying to downplay Reagan's popularity. Come on. I don't like Reagan, what he stood for or his legacy, but it isn't many world leaders that have had a national outpouring at their passing like Reagan did. He pulled some vile stuff, but in a historical context, it just makes you look silly to say that Reagan wasn't well liked. For goodness sake, he's the last U.S. president to win election in a landslide. Sure, he did it using fear, the southern strategy, etc. A lot of people believed in his rhetoric and its because liberals try to minimize the importance of that emotion and "gut" feeling to the electorate that has led to so many electoral losses.

But the heart of the matter is, these people aren't running for chairman of the party - an explicitly partisan position. Speaking as someone who is proudly partisan, I dearly do not want another George W. Bush. Bush has governed as a Republican fighting for Republicans and as a result we've got a division in this country that is only superceded by the divisions we felt over the civil war. It is simply not a healthy way to run a democracy, and the presidency is weakened when it is seen as no more than a partisan institution.

This isn't to say that the candidates should be non-ideological bowls of mush. Because a huge part of the job for the next Democratic president will be about pushing the party's ideals, selling progressive solutions to the American people. But we're fooling ourselves if we think the path to that is the partisanship of the Bush regime. We'll just be trading one brand of gridlock for another. What's the point then? Just having a Democratic president is not good enough if the very real ills of the world aren't addressed.

If Barack Obama is going to be pilloried as a betrayer for simply acknowledging the tactical superiority of Reagan - and not endorsing a single one of his policies - then we're in for a rude awakening.

Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I see the presidency as serving many roles: among those is leader of his party, but also he or she is our national leader - our representative as Americans regardless of our party affiliation or lack thereof. Ultrapartisanship is welcome in the party chairmanship, and even to some extent in the legislative bodies, but it minimizes the office of the presidency as George Bush has to make it all about sticking to the party 24/7.