Sunday, May 26, 2013

The long game on post-partisanship

Let's pretend like you were elected President of the United States of America based mostly on rhetoric like this:

Now let's assume that immediately after your inauguration, you learn that the Republicans have decided to use this against you and are going to oppose anything you try to do - not simply when they disagree, but even when they might otherwise support your proposals on principle.

How would you proceed to try to "change the culture of Washington?"

You could - as many partisans suggested - dig in your heels and further entrench the partisan warfare. I suspect that's exactly what the Republicans were hoping for. Their job of painting your presidency as that of a soshulist Kenyan Muslim would have actually been much easier under those circumstances.

But no. You decided to stick with it and no matter what the issue being confronted - you reached out to try to compromise and find common ground with your opponents. That left them with a continue their "total obstruction all the time" they had to paint themselves into an ever more extremist corner and fan the flames of their ever-shrinking lunatic base. To actually appear to be working with the soshulist Kenyan Muslim would be anathema.

Based on this strategy you handily won re-election and gained seats in both the House and Senate. The Republicans tried a "rebranding" that failed completely and then started to fabricate scandals that went nowhere. Nothing seemed to be working for them and the harder they spun, the farther they fell in the eyes of the American people.

A few members of the opposition saw where all of this was headed and started to get worried. And so you launched a "charm offensive" (that's what the media called it anyways) to try to develop a common sense caucus. Pretty soon your former opponent for the presidency was calling out the lunatics on the Senate floor and agreeing with you on some major policy initiatives. And the 1996 GOP presidential candidate said that the Republican Party "ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says 'closed for repairs' until New Year’s Day next year — and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas." Ouch!

No one knows exactly how all this will end. But at this point you know that the Republicans still have only two choices: (1) work with you on finding common sense solutions, or (2) die as a party. That's the reality you have created. As Mark Schmitt explained several years ago:
...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.
And so ultimately, this very long game of changing the culture of Washington is still underway. You know that you've set the table for a "win" on this one either way - even if some of the folks still caught up in the past can't see it - because you keep your eye on the prize and don't listen to the noise.


  1. The best thing for them to do would be to do some retooling. This road will only marginalize them as the years pass. That's not my problem.


  2. I've always thought that this was his strategy. Now, with the Republicans screaming "Nazi!" and "Holocaust!" and "Hitler" at every commonsense bipartisan policy EVER, and ppl like you so stating to the general public, I can't help feeling like running around saying "I TOLD YOU SO" to all the CaveTrolls who derided our President for caving when he was actually cutting the opposition off at the knees.

    The man has never wavered from his promises and his goals. Thank you for this piece.

  3. Love your posts, SP. Have just recently discovered this site. Believe we share a deep sense of who this man Obama is, and what kind of a leader he really is. This is difficult to articulate in our culture, but he is simply operating at a higher level of consciousness than most, perhaps all of his opponents.This patience, forbearance, unfailing willingness to engage the opposition - none of this is strategy; or more precisely, it is strategy, and something larger, higher, present only at a higher level of developmental consciousness - this, quite simply, is who the man is, and he easily, gracefully, consistently operates from this being center, and knows he will be OK. I have never seen this in a major political leader. It is thrilling! Absolutely. What philosopher Ken Wilber calls the new, integral level of consciousness is taking hold. President Obama is the leading edge of the wave that will deeply change all of us over the next ten years. Thrilling!

    And by the way, you should go ahead and write that book.