If I had a hammer

29 07 2011

President Obama is smart. Very smart.

You can see it in press conferences and prepared statements, his grasp of the whole of an issue and its part, its relationship to other issues, the uncontroversial and the contested pieces, costs, benefits, risks. . . the guy’s got it down.

All of that analytical might, however, does not translate into political savvy.

It’s not unconnected, of course: the man ran a highly disciplined and ruthless campaign against a very strong primary opponent (Hillary Clinton, who is not lacking in the candlepower department, either), was solid against a less-strong Republican opponent, and quietly brilliant in his patience as the economy blew apart: Where McCain flailed, Obama hung back, projecting an image of calm competence as he moved in concert with the White House, Treasure, and Congress.

It worked.

That’s good, at least for those of us who wanted Obama to become president. And I think he’s been pretty good: the Lily Ledbetter law, the Affordable Care Act, the end to DADT, the reworking of diplomacy—all good. I’m well to the left of the president, but as I knew that when I voted for him, I’m not particularly chagrined that he turned out to be the moderate I thought he was.

No, my differences with the president are less about policy (tho’ there are those), than with his tactics and strategy.

Strategy: Unclear.Would be nice if there were some stated positive purpose to the Democratic party in general and his presidency in particular.

Tactics: he has only one—hang back calmly, try to work in concert with the powers-that-be.

Yes, that worked in the fall of 2008, but it is the summer of 2011 and at least some of those powers are rather uninterested in working in concert.

You need new tactics, Mr. President. Holding out your arms and waiting for everyone to gather within them ain’t gonna cut it, now. You have one approach, and when that one approach fails, so do you.

(Oh, christ, did I just address the President? I hate that shit when columnists and commentators do it, and here I just did it. Can’t keep my inner pundit down, I guess.)

Anyway, to restate this in more analytical terms, all me to state (in all obviousness) that any successful leader needs multiple tools, implements, arms, routes—however you  to put it, you need more than one option.

And having a clear purpose might help, here, if only in creating some urgency in developing those new tactics. When he has a purpose—winning elections, passing ACA—Obama is willing to pull out more than one stop.

In any case, I get it: the president runs cool, not hot. His VP, however, can rile himself tying his shoes, so why not unleash the Biden? There are folks outside of government who’d really like to be allies who could rally and provoke and stoke all of those passions of which Obama is clearly leery.

He might prefer his passion furled, but people are rarely moved by reticence. And if you can’t move the House and you can’t move the people, then you can’t move the country, period.

This isn’t meep-meep or 11th-dimensional chess, but a mud-and-blood political fight. So the president doesn’t want to step into the cage himself. Fine, not his thing.

But he still needs those fighters.

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2 responses

30 07 2011
dmf

I think that the prez and the prez’s inhouse behind the scenes folks are still tuffenuff even without rahm but he really is lacking anyone in his party with charisma in the congress. on a side the note the endless multilevel chess gibberish is a meme that needs to die, along with “perfect storm” and “outside-the-box” as you have noted he has one basic strategy.

30 07 2011
dmf

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