Paul Greenberg

Anyone looking for an example of the genius of American politics, and how Barack Obama exemplifies it, need go no further than the just-announced program for Inauguration Day:

Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul herself, will sing; the Rev. Rick Warren will deliver a surely purpose-driven prayer; Yo-Yo Ma will play the cello and Itzhak Perlman the violin; a certified professor of African American Studies will contribute the inaugural poem ... and so eclectically on.

If any creed, color or assorted national origin has been overlooked, it'll surely be included in some future Inauguration Day as this never finished nation continues to jell, spill over, rock and roll, and even harmonize. Walt Whitman could still hear America singing.

In this country's politics, there is a time for every purpose: a time to campaign and a time to govern, a time to divide and a time to unite, a time to end one administration and a time to begin another, a time for ideology and a time to set ideology aside. If you hadn't noticed it before, the presidential campaign is definitely over, and all differences can now be blurred in a general expression of good will.

With the tragic exception of the late unpleasantness of 1861-65, the American model of mutual tolerance has worked beautifully. "We are all Federalists, we are all Republicans," said Thomas Jefferson at his first inaugural, displaying a smooth American style Barack Obama continues to perfect. Come January 20, we'll all be Democrats, we'll all be Republicans.

"The Genius of American Politics" is the title, theme and subject of Daniel Boorstin's classic little book and primer. It remains relevant because the classic, unlike the contemporary, does not date in politics any more than in the arts. In his indispensable guide to the American way, Mr. Boorstin -- he prided himself on not being a Ph.D. -- argued that American political history has been a triumph of pragmatism over ideology, legalities over theories, and of consensus above all.

For that reason, Americans have practiced politics with remarkable continuity, at least compared to Europe's upheavals, without producing any great, universal work of political theory. It is no accident that the best study of democracy in America should have been done by a Frenchman. Americans tend to practice political theory only unconsciously.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.