Friday, March 18, 2011

Another example of the "Obama Method"

Last Sunday, President Obama wrote a ope-ed in the Arizona Daily Star that called for a common sense conversation about gun violence.

Clearly, there's more we can do to prevent gun violence. But I want this to at least be the beginning of a new discussion on how we can keep America safe for all our people...

We owe the victims of the tragedy in Tucson and the countless unheralded tragedies each year nothing less than our best efforts - to seek consensus, to prevent future bloodshed, to forge a nation worthy of our children's futures.

And that was followed up by a meeting convened by the Justice Department.

On Tuesday, officials at the Justice Department will meet with gun control advocates in the first of what will be a series of meetings over the next two weeks with people on different sides of the issue, including law enforcement, retailers and manufacturers, to seek agreement on possible legislative or administrative actions.

The effort follows Mr. Obama’s call, in a column on Sunday in a Tucson newspaper, to put aside “stale policy debates” and begin “a new discussion” on ways to better enforce and strengthen existing laws to keep mentally unstable, violent and criminal people from getting guns.

As we have seen so often, this kind of effort was totally misunderstood by folks on the left like E.J. Dionne in a column he wrote titled Why won't Obama stand up to NRA bullies? I don't really get a coherent response from Dionne in terms of what he's suggesting, but he does include this from the administration:

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, explained the approach in an e-mail. “There are real problems that need to be solved, so we could just retreat to traditional positions and rehash the old arguments until we are blue in the face, but we have done that for the last couple of decades,” he said. “Or we could try something different — drain some of the politics from this and look for areas where we can actually get something done.”

Dionne's problem seems to be that Obama isn't continuing the decades-long shouting match that has accomplished nothing but taken this entire issue off the radar and actually weakened our existing gun laws.

As we've seen so often when Obama tackles issues that have been stalemated for a long time, his strategy is to try to calm down the rhetoric and look for common ground.

I know that every time we try to talk about guns, it can reinforce stark divides. People shout at one another, which makes it impossible to listen. We mire ourselves in stalemate, which makes it impossible to get to where we need to go as a country.

However, I believe that if common sense prevails, we can get beyond wedge issues and stale political debates to find a sensible, intelligent way to make the United States of America a safer, stronger place.

I'm willing to bet that responsible, law-abiding gun owners agree that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few - dangerous criminals and fugitives, for example - from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.

I'm willing to bet they don't think that using a gun and using common sense are incompatible ideas - that we should check someone's criminal record before he can check out at a gun seller; that an unbalanced man shouldn't be able to buy a gun so easily; that there's room for us to have reasonable laws that uphold liberty, ensure citizen safety and are fully compatible with a robust Second Amendment.

That's why our focus right now should be on sound and effective steps that will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.

This is a quintessential example of the Obama Method. Dionne belittles it because the NRA isn't willing to participate. But that's not the point, as Jonathan Chait points out:

This is a perfect summation of Obama's strategy. It does not presuppose that his adversaries are people of goodwill who can be reasoned with. Rather, it assumes that, by demonstrating his own goodwill and interest in accord, Obama can win over a portion of his adversaries' constituents as well as third parties.

As Obama said in his op-ed:

I know some aren't interested in participating. Some will say that anything short of the most sweeping anti-gun legislation is a capitulation to the gun lobby. Others will predictably cast any discussion as the opening salvo in a wild-eyed scheme to take away everybody's guns. And such hyperbole will become the fodder for overheated fundraising letters.

But I have more faith in the American people than that.

Certainly he would welcome the NRA to the conversation. But Obama is aware of the reality he's dealing with. And the NRA isn't his audience at this point. This is a first step in an effort to marginalize them in the conversation. Unbeknownst to Dionne, this is a very effective way to deal with bullies.

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...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.


  1. IMO, Dionne belittles Prez O's position here because he doesn't yet understand the strategy (or is it 'tactics'? ;). He may be in the academic poly-sci class, but he sure isn't mentally ready for Advanced Placement because he is obviously not ready to see beyond the usual! Nor is he cognitively ready to concede that the usual hasn't worked! As Jonathan Chait, and yourself, have pointed out repeatedly, this is not the first time the President has used this MO. I, for one, will wait patiently to see what the President's method accomplishes, and I won't be at all surprised if it moves the ball further along than all the shouting vs NRA recalcitrance that we've seen in the pass.

    The sad part in all of this is that people like Dionne never seem to notice that President Obama is always well aware of the nature of the parties with whom he is dealing. The President Op-Ed clearly shows that he has considered the range of responses out there on this issue, yet there's bound to be those who will proclaim his 'naivete'.

    Well, another week is over and we are now one week closer to 2012! Keep 'em rolling, Mr. President!


  2. Welcome Amy. And thanks!


    I suspect on this issue there's a "long game" plan - kind of like there was with DADT. Folks like Dionne want the results, but don't have a clue about how to get there.