Sunday, January 27, 2013

Building the coalition vs destroying the enemy

Just in case you haven't noticed, I haven't commented at all about former governor Sarah Palin losing her job at Faux News or about former senator Scott Brown's drunk tweeting (oops, I guess I just did). I'd be the last one to suggest that I don't feel a bit of schadenfruede at their expense. But in the big scheme of things, they really don't matter. Just like the baggers of fire don't matter.

President Obama has made his intentions clear for his second term. He wants to engage the American people in a conversation about things that DO matter...reducing gun violence, reforming our immigration system, setting our fiscal house in order, and dealing with climate change. Oh...and he is also talking about ending our perpetual state of war.

It is true that Republicans stand in the way of getting most of that done. The extremists on either side of the isle think that the President's success is dependent on focusing his energy on direct attacks to destroy them. That's what all the cry babies like Boehner, Krauthammer, Gerson and Brooks are whining about. What's amusing is that the very people on the left who rage the loudest about destruction don't even seem to be noticing their tears. They're too caught up in their own rage and cynicism to see just how weak their opponents are right now.

It seems to me that President Obama's plan is to simply ignore all that and engage the people who aren't interested in that battle. He talked more about that in his recently published interview with the New Republic.
I always read a lot of Lincoln, and I'm reminded of his adage that, with public opinion, there's nothing you can't accomplish; without it, you're not going to get very far. And spending a lot more time in terms of being in a conversation with the American people as opposed to just playing an insider game here in Washington is an example of the kinds of change in orientation that I think we've undergone, not just me personally, but the entire White House.
Later in the interview, he gave an example of how that kind of approach worked with the repeal of DADT.
There were advocates in the LGBT community who were furious at me, saying, "Why don't you just sign with a pen ordering the Pentagon to do this?" And my argument was that we could build a coalition to get this done, that having the Pentagon on our side and having them work through that process so that they felt confident they could continue to carry out their missions effectively would make it last and make it work for the brave men and women, gays and lesbians, who were serving not just now but in the future.

And the proof of the pudding here is that not only did we get the law passed, but it's caused almost no controversy. It's been almost thoroughly embraced, whereas had I just moved ahead with an executive order, there would have been a huge blowback that might have set back the cause for a long time.
That is quintessential Obama...building a coalition led to effective change rather than "huge blowback that might have set back the cause for a long time." Blowback from a direct attack actually empowers the opposition whereas focusing your efforts on building strong coalitions for change not only ensures your success - it is also likely to destroy your opponent in the long run. That's exactly what we mean by conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy.
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.


  1. Now the public need to do our part. I resisted joining Organizing for Action because of other commitments to the Dem Party, but if there is some small way I can contribute to this process, then I'm willing to give it a go.

  2. What's really funny about the whole thing is that he has the republicans rejecting their best ideas. Conciliatory rhetoric is effective in outclassing competition. The only downside is that it makes the practitioner appear "weak" to the uninitiated. In Obama's case David Gregory is forced to laugh when a republican tells him that Obama's never tried to work with the GOP. The centrists are forced to admit that the GOP has gone insane. The next four years are going to be rough for the republicans.



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