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.