Sunday, December 12, 2010

Obama's North Star

This kind of critique of Obama is nothing new. We've been hearing it almost since day one of his Presidency.

It seems to me that the outcome of the process isn't something he has a vested interest in ensuring. He says, often in fact, that "all options are on the table" or "I'm willing to listen to anybody." ... He doesn't see himself as an advocate, but an arbitrator. The worst thing for President Obama to deal with is not a bad outcome, but a bad process. It is a mistake to believe that the president doesn't have a preferred outcome and that it isn't often progressive. He does, but he isn't willing to disrupt the process over it with political fights. He believes that whatever a calm, orderly process produces is what is best, even if he disagrees with the results. Even if it occurs in backrooms. Perhaps this is why so many Democrats are scratching their heads trying to figure out what the president believes. What his motives are. What his politics are.

While this writer begins his article stating that he doesn't think this makes Obama naive or weak, that is the conclusion of many who see things this way.

What I hear is people trying very hard to understand Obama. And yet they continue to apply their own frames and patterns rather than make an effort to see things through fresh eyes. I'd like to suggest that these folks read James Kloppenberg.

Throughout his career, Obama has refused to demonize his opponents. Instead, he has sought them out and listened to them. He has tried to understand how they think and why they see the world as they do. His mother encouraged this sense of empathy, and it’s a lesson Obama learned well. Since January 2009, Obama has watched his efforts at reconciliation, experimentation, and -consensus--building bounce off the hard surfaces of political self-interest and entrenched partisanship, but there is no reason to think he will abandon that strategy now. He knows that disagreement is a vital part of the American fabric, and that our differences are neither shallow nor trivial.

And perhaps, even listen to Obama himself on what he has to say about outcomes.

So, my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there, what is helping people live out their lives; what is giving them more opportunity; what is growing the economy; what is making us more competitive. At any given juncture there are going to be times that my preferred option, what I am absolutely, positively sure is right, I can’t get done. And so then, my question is, does it make sense for me to tack a little bit this way or that way because I am keeping my eye on the long-term and the long fight. Not my day-to-day news cycle, but where am I going over the long-term.

While I do believe that Obama values a process where all sides are brought to the table and heard (in other words - democracy), he has a North Star...:"what is helping people live out their lives; what is giving them more opportunity; what is growing the economy; what is making us more competitive."

That North Star is not dependent on a particular ideology - much to the confusion of extremists on both sides of the equation. By nature, a North Star is off in the distance (ie, long-term) and is used to guide our journey in the here and ensure that we stay the course, even as we have to "tack a little bit this way or that." If your vision is too short-sighted, this is probably something you're likely to miss.


  1. You are so very right. I have wrote about President Obama's pragmatism often. No one will listen.

    If the pondents read his books they would understand that his vision is always forward. Very few decisions of his is the right now. It's always how is this decision going to effect the US down the road, or the out years.

    President Obama don't have a ideology. Strong thoughts yes, but an ideal ideology no, he go with what make sense for America. I like that about him. It's what make the news makers crazy. They can't figure him out.

  2. Hey Brezzydee.

    I do think there are many who just don't get Obama. As I've often said, whether you agree with him or not, it helps to first understand where he's coming from.

    For me, his pragmatism and long-term view of things are a refreshing change.


When it comes to the presidential race, are polls all that matter?

A little more than five months from the 2024 presidential election,  conventional wisdom  suggests that  Biden is losing . But according to ...