Saturday, February 26, 2011

Obama's Long Game Revisited

For a while now, I've been talking about the fact that, in order to understand Obama, you have to be clear that he's not playing for short-term gain...he's playing a long game. Here's what he said about that himself.

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.

With our 24/7 news cycle and access to immediate information, those on the left and in the media tend to over-react to the times when Obama has to "tack a little bit this way or that" and freak out.

You'd think that after several years of watching this, folks would start to catch on, step back, and try to get a view of the big picture. I'm sorry to say that the daily hysteria we are so often subjected to indicates that is often not the case.

I am encouraged that more often than not these days, Rachel Maddow seems to be getting it. As an example, here's a video of her segment last night on Libya.

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As people on both the left and right were freaking out about "what should Obama do about Libya," the President was quietly making sure that Americans were safe and couldn't be used in a scheme to retaliate against US reaction to what is happening there.

Andrew Sullivan is another one who seems to "get it" one moment and then forget the next. When it comes to overall WH policy, he usually demonstrates some awareness of the long game. For example, here he is applying it to Obama's strategy with Israel.

My point is rather that he has a clear pattern of behavior that is acutely tuned to the longterm. He lets things take their course. Rather than tipping his hand early and decisively, he tends to hang back, aloof, distant, watching. Only when events have occurred that have proven the pointlessness of options he doesn't favor does he forthrightly present his own. And quite often, he almost seems intent on orchestrating such public failures of others' (and his own apparent) options - even at his own short-term cost.

But when it comes to an issue that is very personal for him, ie gay rights, Sullivan tends to loose perspective. Perhaps that's finally changing too because yesterday he had this to say about the announcement that Obama's DOJ will NOT defend DOMA in the courts.

Obama used to say: no sudden moves. But his legacy on gay rights is beginning to build into a historic one. Yes, I have complained loudly in the past... But he is coming through - more cunningly than most of us grasped.

Which is not the first time one can say that on many issues, where Obama's caution and incrementalism have begun to create a legacy that is deeply unsatisfying in the present but looks rather substantive from the rear-view mirror.

I keep hoping that eventually it won't take a "rear-view mirror" look at things to understand what Obama is doing. But I know that the habits of our instant gratification culture are hard to break.

Perhaps that's because seeing the long game requires trust at some level...something that progressives find themselves almost incapable of giving to a politician (with very good reason). But I've seen enough at this point. That doesn't mean I'll always agree with anything Obama does. What it does mean is that occasionally I catch myself when I get impatient and start to worry. At that moment I'm starting to find myself thinking "give it some time" and "lets see where he's going with this." Inevitably the picture becomes more clear and I save myself all that energy I would have wasted worrying and over-reacting.


  1. I like your analysis (because it mirrors my own thoughts about the President?). ;) Sullivan's comments re Prez O and Israel really made a lasting impact on me at the time I first read them, and, at the time, the commentary helped calm my anger at the shortsighted pundits who, instead of a reasonable analysis yelled insults. I have to confess that he's turned me off with his deficit rant. Like you stated, I too feel enough confidence in the President (based, I must say, on his excellent track record) that I remember his 'long game' on my own now and more quickly. I think his difficulty lies in the fact that not many of his political colleagues can see beyond the old playbook. Thank you for the reminder said in the President's own words.

  2. V.C.

    I think Obama is a bit of a visionary when it comes to politics. And most visionaries get attacked at fools for not going along with the status quo.

    From someone who knows him best...Michelle.

    "Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He's a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change."


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