Obama’s Solution

E J Dionne is pretty much correct about What’s Obama Fighting For? He claims Obama has let scandals manufactured by the right (and the press) take too much of the agenda, despite a truly recovering economy which should overshadow the hype.

Obama’s trouble is also his strength. He’s a big thinker, and a nice guy. When he has an idea, somehow he envisions how the idea should progress through the system. Then he initiates the process. This usually begins by throwing the opposition a bone. The bone is accepted, but not acknowledged. Then the other side asks for compromise. Moreover, they may label his efforts as radical and untenable.

Early in his term, he tried to triangulate. By this, I mean he hopes for a result, but avoids entanglement in the process by letting others battle things out. And he gambles that the result is in his favor.

Sometimes Obama tries a different approach. He asks for way more than he can expect. Then he leaves it hanging, and does nothing more. The third approach has been to work feverishly on a project, largely with just his colleagues, and pass it when the time is right.

And he seems to be pretty good at putting on the miles and appealing to the public.

These are all methods described in negotiation books. I think what Obama never read is the chapter on cultivating allies, or at least we have not seen any fruit from that labor. He needs more people who – openly or covertly – could use his help and agree with him at times. These people exist in Congress. And leave the crazies in Congress and on talk radio, alone. Quit quoting them, just to say why they are wrong. What those people are is on the fringe, and should be marginalized.

Next, keep your bones for actual negotiation. Negotiate with people who are able and willing to accomplish something. Reward them, stroke them when they cooperate. Find some actual common ground and walk on it.


About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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2 Responses to Obama’s Solution

  1. JP says:

    Jim, I think you have a good analysis of Obama’s methods. In a more normal time, I would agree with your conclusion that he needs to better cultivate allies. I just don’t think we live in normal times, and when the other party is in lock-step and has made it repeatedly clear that their sole goal is to make Obama fail, then nearly the entire Republican party has become the “fringe” and there really isn’t much to work with. I’d love to hear who you think the Republicans in congress are who are not in the fringe and whom Obama could cultivate. You say those people exist in Congress. It’s time to name names, because I am not at all convinced they do exist in Congress.
    Below is the email response I sent you about EJ’s column.

    From the EJ column:
    “Up to now, support for the president has held up in the face of the GOP offensive, thanks to an improving economy and because many voters — especially Obama’s partisans — see the Republicans as hyping problems into scandals to distract attention from their own divisions and their shortage of solutions.”

    This is true, though I think the bigger reason is that Americans just have election fatigue, and that lasts a year anyway. We spent a year and a half being pummeled by politics and election ads, and we’re just tired of it. We have other things we want to do, and we just want to enjoy life without thinking about politics for awhile. We’ve paid just enough attention to sort of get that the Republicans are just attacking Obama because they hate him more than they love the country, and just enough to see that maybe a few things are getting a little better, and we still like Obama personally, so we still support him. And we wish they would all just go away and leave us alone for awhile.
    So yes, it would be great to have a grand vision thing from Obama for his second term, and there is still time for that. Coming out now with it, it could just get lost in summer vacations. The people have to be ready to listen–and we aren’t at the moment–and Obama has to be ready to lead. After the summer is over and Americans have recharged their energy there will be plenty of time. Right now it is only the real political junkies paying any attention, and not much happens in the slow summer after the start of a second term, so they are bored and frustrated there aren’t real stories to cover, so the pundits start grasping for a story, any story, even one that has to be ginned up.
    Now is the time to do little things, like the court nominations, etc. And to start defending the ACA and to build on that. And as always, as EJ points out, Obama has to stop acting like there is ever going to be a Republican party that is willing to work with him even to a minimal degree on anything. In the fall it will be time for grander visions and goals. Whether we’ll get those from Obama in the fall is another question. I’m not terribly hopeful. But I’m convinced that right now it would all fall on ears that are out at the beach enjoying life.
    (It also shows the Republicans mistake in going after all the made up scandals now, when no one cares or has the energy to pay attention. If they keep pushing them in the fall when we start to pay attention, people will just see it as old news and still won’t care.)
    The question quoted at the start of the column: “What is the grand battle in which liberals are now engaged?” right off exposes the flaws in the argument, because Obama is not a liberal. He is very much a centrist. So hoping for him to engage in a liberal grand battle is pretty much tilting at windmills. From my perspective we have to keep pushing him as best we can on progressive issues, without expecting too much (both because he is a centrist and not a liberal and because the Republicans still have plenty of power to obstruct everything he could try to do.)

    • Jim says:

      Yes, JP, Obama is a centrist, though certainly leaning more left than right,admittedly depending on your frame of reference. Regardless of the interest of the general public, the business of governing remains. And this business remains regardless of the agenda of the Republican party.

      So what Obama needs to do remains to act as an effective negotiator. You don’t offer the farm before you get to the table. He found common ground with Chris Christie, and he can do it even with McCain, Graham, and, hell, even John Boehner…any of those dudes. Negotiation involves finding mutual benefits, tit for tat, back scratching, even palm greasing. It need not be in the public eye, in fact might be better in an office or on the phone. We have seen very little evidence of this sort of behavior from our president. He’s been nominating too many of his inside help lately. Republicans keep asking Obama for “leadership,” and he should call their bluff in a manner other than at a podium. It all seems like international posturing through the media, rather than people actually talking. North and South Korea are actually talking, and we might get some meaningful dialogue in Syria and/or Israel. If those guys can talk, surely we can.

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