Friday, January 6, 2012

President Obama: Legislator, Negotiator, Fighter

I find it amusing watching pundits and bloggers trying to capture a meme about President Obama at any given moment over the last few years. You'd think that eventually they would see that human beings can rarely be captured by a soundbite and instead are much more complex in both their strengths and foibles. President Obama is no exception.

Of course the latest meme to surface is that the President has somehow turned over a new leaf and become a populist fighter against the intransigent Republicans instead of being an accommodationist believer in bi-partisanship. A couple of weeks ago I challenged the idea that populism is somehow new to this President by showing how he's been saying the same things all along.

What I've seen over the years is that every time President Obama comes out swinging, there are a host of people who suggest that he has "finally" abandoned the idea of bi-partisanship. Many heard that in his speech in Ohio where he took on the Republicans for their obstruction and made the recess appointment of Richard Cordray to the CFPA. But take a listen to what he actually said (most people have quoted the second paragraph while leaving out the first).

So I’ve said before that I want to look for every possible opportunity to work with Congress to move this country forward and create jobs. I’m going to look for every opportunity to try to bridge the partisan divide and get things done -- because that’s what the American people need right now...

But when Congress refuses to act, and as a result, hurts our economy and puts our people at risk, then I have an obligation as President to do what I can without them. I’ve got an obligation to act on behalf of the American people. And I’m not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people that we were elected to serve. Not with so much at stake, not at this make-or-break moment for middle-class Americans. We’re not going to let that happen.
(Emphasis mine)

You see what he did there? He left the door open.

So to those who think bi-partisanship is the enemy of liberal politics, pay attention. This is a President who is playing a long game guided by his North Star. He'll employ the tactics dictated by the situation to reach that goal. That means that when he has a large majority in both Houses of Congress - he'll engage in the legislative battle of getting the best stimulus, health care reform, Wall Street reform, etc. he can. And when Republicans have a House majority and are holding the world economy hostage to their extremist agenda, he'll outsmart them in terms of negotiations. And when its time to take on Osama bin Laden or Republicans who are just being plain stupid in ways that pose a threat to the American people, he'll take them on as the steely fighter.

If some day - either through the demise of the Republican Party as we now know it today or through a process where they finally come to their senses - the possibility of joining together in a bi-partisan way to solve the country's great challenges presents itself, he'll be ready to play that role as well.

I suspect that history will be more capable of assessing the different facets of this President than our current react-in-the-moment news media. But perhaps by taking a broader look ourselves we can calm the tides of reaction that well up. In doing so, we'll learn more about what he means when he talks about being able to see the long game.

1 comment:

  1. I could not agree more. I believe the President has been quite consistent in his ideology as well as in striving for bi-partisanship. Of course lately he has had to be more selective about which parts of his agenda are at all likely to be acted upon by Congress. I also recall the President's appeals for help from all of us to achieve the change he hoped for. He promised to work for us if we did our part. With the Occupy Movement actively pushing for reforms, the President may have a little political cover for some more of the changes this country needs.