Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Joseph Ellis, The Obama Campaign, and Early American Politics

A couple of days ago, renowned historian Joseph Ellis wrote a piece in the Los Angeles Times that seeks to defend Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. In the article, Ellis argues that Obama's message (which claims to unite Americans across party lines for change), should not be attacked by partisan politicians as being unAmerican. Instead, Ellis argues that Obama's message is as American as apple pie:
The watchword for all the founders was not "the people" but "the public," which they understood to mean the collective interest of the citizenry, more enduring than the popular opinion of fleeting majorities. The great evil, they all agreed, was "faction," which meant narrow-minded interest groups that abandoned the public in favor of their own sectarian agendas, or played demagogue politics with issues in order to confuse the electorate

Though clearly against the agendas of political parties, Ellis does recognize the fact that even the earliest politicians of this nation (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, etc.) were also divided by political difference. Ellis argues, however, that such a division was the result of specific political ideology in regards to a specific issue, as opposed to the current system where parties divide out of mutual disdain. Ellis sites the farewell address of George Washington, along with the First Inaugural Address of Thomas Jefferson as evidence to support his claims. In both documents, Washington and Jefferson (two men with very different political leanings), urged their constituents to reject political loyalties, which they believed created a false sense of patriotism. In his Los Angeles Times article, Ellis argues that to criticize Obama for rejecting many of the accepted partisan beliefs of modern politics is not only foolish but against the historical precedent of this country.

To read Ellis's article in the Los Angeles times click here.


Steve Becknall said...

Interesting article. Though I agree with most of what Ellis states, I wonder if he has forgotten the fact that the first elections of this country were divided just as much down party lines as they are today. Is this an inevitable occurance of free elections in a republic, or is it indicative of the fact that, for the most part, citizens vote based on loyalty?

Steve Becknall said...

I also wanted to say that I find it interesting that Joseph Ellis has written so many articles in recent months. He has been published in several major papers, speaking in defense of virtually every single Democratic candidate for president.