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There have been many cross-currents in American politics since Barack Obama's historical election. Like all political events, they are formed by a shifting morass of factional pressure and policy goals, so there is no single theme that unites them. Much of the politics has been formed, like much American politics, by partisan posturing, (and by struggles by factions with the two main American parties). Overall, I do suspect that Obama, and/or the political advisors close to him, are pursuing a somewhat risky political strategy.

I believe that is much as is possible in the cynical, sometimes zero sum game of politics, much of Obama's original calls for post-partisanship were honest. Of course, much of that could have been an attempt to co-opt the Republican party, but some effort was made, such as the retention of Robert Gates as defense secretary, the traditional appointment of a member of opposite party to a minor cabinet post (Ray LaHood in transportation), the attempted appointment of another Republican Senator, Judd Gregg, to head Commerce, the appointment of Jon Huntsman, Republican governor of Utah as ambassador to China, and the appointment of John McHugh, Republican congressman, to head the Department of the Army. That laundry list of appointments and attempted appointments didn't have the energy to stem the tide of quasi-libertarian populism that makes up the tea party movement. From that quarter, as well as from elected and establishment Republicans, the dream of post-partisanship quickly faded. Or maybe Obama's agenda was too ambitious for a post-partisanship world. In any case, a new strategy would have to be tried.

Obama's 2008 electoral victory, the greatest popular and electoral vote for someone who was not a sitting president or vice-president since Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, was based on a coalition of voters. One leg of the coalition, minorities, was a very dependable member of the Democratic voting bloc. The other leg of the coalition, affluent, college educated urbanites, was not. As someone raised in the Pacific Northwest, I had actually grown up with the idea that middle class, college educated, urban people tended to be Democratic, while rural people were Republican. I only have recently learned that in many parts of the country, this has not traditionally been the case, but rather the opposite. But in 2008, college educated whites (especially those who are young and urban) became an almost stereotypical Democratic voting bloc. Apart from being voters, this group is a very good voting bloc to have. They tend to vote more consistently, they tend to donate money and time, and they tend to be opinion leaders. In other words, it is a group that the Democratic Party dearly wants to keep. They are also a group who, in the short term, might not be voting for their immediate interests while voting Democratic.

The Democratic Party has to find a way to keep these voters thinking of themselves as Democratic. Or they would have had to think of one, if one had not been thrown right into their lap by the populist, essentialist wing of the Republican Party. Because every time the Obama administration is attacked, it drives the college educated urbanites closer into them. A lot of this is, frankly, playing on people's prejudices. Jim Bunning could be a nobel laureate poet, but since he is from Kentucky, he might be looked at askance by residents of more urban areas of the country. But (as far I as I have been able to tell), the quasi-libertarian wing of the Republican Party has not put forward their case with the greatest sensitivity, eloquence and historical perspective. On the contrary, while I am not totally unsympathetic to the cause of small government, the actual matrix of the Tea Party movement seems to be a mixture of paranoia, nostalgia and crypto-racism. Even if that is not the case, that is a perception that is spreading through the college educated, affluent voters that the Democratic Party so dearly wants to keep.

Whether it is a conscious or half-conscious strategy, Barack Obama is engaging in a type of Rope-a-Dope. The more fervently the party base and loyalists attack Obama as a socialist dictator, the more they drag up Obama's birth certificate, and the more they pretend that American history was Pa Olsen and his individualistic ways until Tip O'Neill invented government spending in 1982, the more the urban, college educated people will feel that they have nothing in common with the Republican Party. And like any Rope-a-Dope strategy, this is a risky thing for Obama to do. The Democratic Party, which was once seen by many as a ineffectual debating society, is now seen by its opponents as an insidious monster. But overall, the long term demographics of the country don't make the rage of the white, rural residents of Appalachia and the South a viable threat to Democratic electoral success.

Of course, this is just one interpretation, and I have seen enough electoral surprises that six months from now, this may be dismissed as errant ramblings.

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