I won’t say I agree with every word, but Nancy LeTourneau’s article at the Washington Monthly, “President Obama on Power and Change”, is one of the better articles I’ve seen lately. In it, LeTourneau describes President’s Obama’s approach to policy and political negotiations as “conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy.”
In the article, she quotes Mark Schmitt:
The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith. It thrives on protest, complaint, fear…One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that’s not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists — it’s a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict.
Obama’s approach to negotiation has been to put something on the table and challenge his political opponents to respond. Republicans have repeatedly fallen into the trap of having nothing or having only proposals so extreme they were clearly not serious. In a world not distorted by a media entranced of the “both sides do it” narrative, this strategy could have yielded greater results. As LeTourneau describes it:
As the story was told to the American public, it came across as “Washington is gridlocked because both sides have dug in.” According to former Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren, that is exactly what Republicans had in mind.
I’m not a fan of the “Barack Obama plays eleven dimensional chess” school of thought. Instead, I like this explanation of his often seemingly timid approach. He’s not doing politics as usual, instead he’s playing the game differently, he’s playing by a different set of rules. Arriving in a DC up-ended by the seemingly endless failures of the Bush administration, it was obvious something different had to happen. Well it has been happening and the progress has been achingly slow, but it has been progress.
The question for me is – “Can we expand on the foundation that’s been laid?”