Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He's a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change.
- Michele Obama
I love that quote from Michelle because it so often captures what I see when I try to watch and understand what President Obama is doing. Today I am again watching and trying to learn as we see the process unfold about the negotiations on the debt ceiling.
Over the last couple of years, Obama has several times mentioned that his experience as a community organizer was the most critical in his career. What we know is that he used that experience to understand the dynamics of power and how to use it to address the very real needs of people who don't feel like they have any. As a matter of fact, at one point in his career, we know that Obama taught seminars on the concepts of power and change.
Today I'm thinking about how he's played these negotiations about the debt ceiling differently that he did the one's about the Bush tax cuts. There was one big difference in the power equation on this one. He's known from the start that the Republican leadership (ie, Boehner and McConnell) would have to eventually agree to raise the debt ceiling because the corporate and business community would demand it. That meant the power dynamics of this one were different than during the battle over the tax cuts. Obama knew what the final outcome would be.
So he used the power of that position to set up the Republicans to show their hand on two things:
1. They refuse to compromise
2. They don't really care about the deficit
Some people are starting to talk about this being a death blow to the Republicans.
Obama needs to quickly move to declare victory in this thirty-year debate on taxes. Do it now, with the biggest, wickedest grin he can muster while Republicans are in disarray fighting amongst themselves.
The curtain has been pulled back. The wizard has been revealed as a small insecure man. But in Washington no one will acknowledge even a seminal moment unless you grab ahold of it and declare it as such.
That would certainly feel good. But I'm still in the stage of watching and learning how this President operates. It will be interesting to see how he uses this moment. The truth is that the Republicans have probably lost this one - but it doesn't mean they're going to simply go away. In politics, the opposition is never completely vanquished. So we've still got many more battles to fight. And I can't help but think about the advice we get from the hostage negotiators. One of their strategies is:
Help your counterpart save face when you come out ahead.
So we know that Obama correctly read the power plays on this one. Now we'll see how he manages the win.