Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Great President Who Deserves Re-election

Back in early 2009 during the heat of the debate about health care reform, it was Jonathan Chait who used the term "conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy" to describe Obama's method.
This apparent paradox is one reason Obama's political identity has eluded easy definition. On the one hand, you have a disciple of the radical community organizer Saul Alinsky turned ruthless Chicago politician. On the other hand, there is the conciliatory post-partisan idealist. The mistake here is in thinking of these two notions as opposing poles. In reality it's all the same thing. Obama's defining political trait is the belief that conciliatory rhetoric is a ruthless strategy.
In that same article, it was Chait who pointed me to an article by Mark Schmitt from way back in 2007 during the primaries in which he analyzed the main Democratic candidate's "theories of change." Here's what he said about Obama:
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.
Regular readers here will recognize those quotes. They became the basis for much of my understanding of how this President operates.

I say all that as a reminder and to lay the context for a fantastic article Chait has written titled The Case for Obama: Why He Is a Great President, Yes Great.
I supported Obama because I judged him to have a keen analytical mind, grasping both the possibilities and the limits of activist government, and possessed of excellent communicative talents. I thought he would nudge government policy in an incrementally better direction. I consider his presidency an overwhelming success...

Obama’s résumé of accomplishments is broad and deep, running the gamut from economic to social to foreign policy. The general thrust of his reforms, especially in economic policy, has been a combination of politically radical and ideologically moderate. The combination has confused liberals into thinking of Obamaism as a series of sad half-measures, and conservatives to deem it socialism, but the truth is neither. Obama’s agenda has generally hewed to the consensus of mainstream economists and policy experts. What makes the agenda radical is that, historically, vast realms of policy had been shaped by special interests for their own benefit. Plans to rationalize those things, to write laws that make sense, molder on think-tank shelves for years, even generations. They are often boring. But then Obama, in a frenetic burst of activity, made many of them happen all at once...

What can be said without equivocation is that Obama has proven himself morally, intellectually, temperamentally, and strategically. In my lifetime, or my parents’, he is easily the best president. On his own terms, and not merely as a contrast to an unacceptable alternative, he overwhelmingly deserves reelection.
Those are the highlights. But I encourage you to go read the whole thing.

As this election draws near, more and more my thoughts also go to a reflection on these last four years and making the case for why I support this President. I guess it should come as no surprise that one of the few pundits who seemed to "get" him from the beginning would articulate that so effectively.

4 comments:

  1. I guess I would disagree about the prophetic nature of Schmitt. He left himself a tidy series of hedges, but his attempt to find the One True Theory of Change is ultimately just a theory of Have Giant Majorities in Both Houses of Congress.

    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: higher taxes, you won't be able to choose your doctor, liberals coddle terrorists, etc. 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. It's how you deal with people with intractable demands -- put ‘em on a committee. Then define the committee's mission your way.

    This adequately explains enlightened senatorial management when you have the House as your liberal backstop. The House is critical to binding the senate's hands.

    I imagine her negotiating the fine points of a health care bill, having mastered every lesson from 1993 and every detail, and getting Senators McConnell and Grassley in the room, and them walking out having agreed to something they barely understand. Superior knowledge and diligence can be a tool of power.

    This is appropriate for the last two years, when conciliation failed politically, and the only few legislative wins came through outhustling and outscamming the idiot Republicans on their own self-imposed turf. President Obama and Jack Lew and co. drank the GOP's milkshake on those deficit deals. But the deal itself isn't any particular win for America, and the admin knows it. They got it all figured out on taxes, that was a real rout, but the fucked up spending cuts will harm good governance and can only be fixed by...a numerical majority in the House next year. Or having to give back some fraction of the win on taxes to the Republicans to compensate.

    Obama's right that the purpose of a majority is to wield it, but without giving away that's what you're doing. You gotta be cool, you gotta be sneaky. You gotta sell the bipartisan angle hard and trick the conservative and corporate movements into thinking they're part of what's happening.

    But you need numbers. Persuasion doesn't work. Entrapment is only half-effective. You fundamentally need raw numbers first and foremost to get anything substantial done. The problem is that it's proven difficult to accumulate large majorities through slow and steady work over subsequent cycles. Supermajorities are fluky, reactionary events. That's why folks are still waiting on that demographic destiny to save them. Now that much on the policy front is sort of ironed out, translating any of that into sustained political advantage is the great problem of the next four years and beyond.

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    1. What most impresses me about Obama is that, in addition to his awesome daily responsibilities as President & also campaigning hard to be re-elected, he still finds time to email me personally to ask for campaign contributions and/or volunteer to phone bank. Many of my friends have also received similarly personal emails from the President as well.

      How does he do it? Is he Superman or something? Or does he use Dragon to dictate each email? Whatever the answer, he's amazing.

      I agree with your post, Miss S.P. about why he's a great president. But his ability to multi-task to this degree should be at the top of the list.

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  2. He's not a great president, but deserves everyone's vote compared to Romney.
    To bad you libs don't expect more from your leader
    Obama wins!
    Then what?
    The center piece of his agenda is a tax cut for 99% of Americans.
    That will help balance the books?
    A great president would be getting real with the American people, not regurgitating Republican tax policies from over thirty years ago.

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