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Just how 'transformational' does Obama intend to be?

ASK THIS | January 07, 2009

Political scientist Jeffrey Tulis writes that the press should ask a series of questions designed to illuminate the meaning of Obama's promise to change Washington. What does 'post-partisan' really mean, practically speaking?

Second in a series of questions for the new administration from a wide range of experts.

By Jeffrey K. Tulis

During the campaign Obama promised to "change Washington," to offer "a new kind of politics," and to be a "transformational" president. These are very broad, and potentially deep, commitments. The Washington press tends to ask questions that are much narrower -- about specific policy preferences and plans, about political scandal, about partisan tactics, or about political strategy. These familiar topics need to be nested in a larger set of questions about the place of the presidency in the constitutional order.

The press should ask a series of questions designed to illuminate the meaning of Obama's deep commitments. These questions will need to be repeated over time and should be regarded as opportunities for the President to develop his ideas rather than occasions for the press to "smoke out" a secret agenda. To be sure, the President and his team need to be pressed to respond if they avoid questions like these, or if they give vacuous responses. But it is reasonable to expect that responsible answers would develop over time in tandem with concrete policies that respond to immediate challenges. The President and the press both need to learn to talk about the exigencies of the moment from a broad systemic point of view.

Q. What does "post-partisan" politics mean? Is it the same as "bi-partisan" politics? How are either of these notions different from George W. Bush's promise to change Washington prior to his first term? What is the role of parties in general and the Democratic party, in particular, in a new "post partisan" Washington?

Q. What is the role of the Congress in Obama's vision of a new kind of politics? Does President Obama think that the shape and content of the major legislation is principally the responsibility of the President, or, as a former Senator, does he think that the Congress really should be the principal legislative institution? If Congress should be the principal legislative institution, what does that mean? Should Congress be expected to do more than rubber stamp, modify, or tweak presidential initiatives? Does President Obama think that Congress has delegated too much power and responsibility to the executive branch in recent decades?

Q. How does Obama plan to use his extraordinary network of citizens that was recruited during the campaign and maintained through regular e-mail contact since the campaign? If this network is tapped to pressure Congress to support his policies, how is this not just a new version of partisan politics? How can this new form of Internet based mobilization advance Obama's aspiration for a post partisan or bi-partisan politics?

Q. Does a "transformational" presidency refer only to a transformation in the way politics works or does it refer to the distinctive scope and ambition of his social, economic and foreign policies? FDR faced grave economic and foreign policy crises and is often thought of as a transformational president. The policies and institutional changes he advocated came to be known as the New Deal. Does Obama have a "public philosophy" that unites and makes sense of the totality of his economic and social policies. Is Obama's public philosophy an extension or completion of the New Deal or is it something newer than the New Deal? On the campaign trail, Obama and McCain offered generally familiar and conventional partisan policy proposals. The same was true for FDR during his 1932 campaign. The New Deal was not visible until after FDR took office and began to confront his enormous challenges. In what ways will Obama's political project, at its best, be more than just the completion of unfinished business from the New Deal and Great Society, but rather something distinctively "transformational?"

Posted by Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
02/03/2009, 10:33 AM

The Obama's new deal of change or transformation_ regarding the institutional approfondisement within the US and a deal windowing hopes for Washington's peace centric foreign policy_seems to have been a phenomenon that has to undergo or experience the vicissitudes of certain policy-orientations, thereby finally validating the true picture of the current US's administration's practical image in the world community, this seemingly prognosis is nothing but my humble judgment about the promise of change made by President Barack Obama.

It's time Bush explained why he only talks to supporters
Tulis's March 2005 article for Nieman Watchdog about Bush's practice of only speaking before screened audiences.

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