Saturday, January 30, 2010

Obama has decided to risk it all on turning the political culture around

It's obvious by now, but Paul Krugman Blog - put it well.
Obama is a terrific speaker and a very smart guy. He really showed up the Republicans in the now-famous give-and-take. But we knew that. What’s now in question isn’t his ability to talk, it’s his ability to lead.
It's very disappointing. I wonder if there isn't something more behind it. I don't mean anything sinister. But why is he doing (why has he done) so little? Is anything leaking from people who might know what's going on?

Is it just that he doesn't know how to lead? Leadership in this case means at least two things. First it means getting things done by talking to people in private. Second it means rallying the country to support your causes and creating public pressure to get things done. He has done neither. It doesn't even seem like he's tried. Why not?

Here's Obama's Q&A with the Republicans. He's calm, sensible, and open; the Republicans are attacking, one-sided, and political. What is the country's analysis? Will this stop the Republican attack machine? I doubt it. Everything he says is right. He makes the point that the way the Republican's respond to everything as an opportunity to misrepresent and demonize is very bad for the country. Will it make a difference? I doubt it. He needs to do more.

He can still be calm, etc. But he also has to carry a big stick. And he also has to get individual Republicans to work with him. And he has to do that by talking to them privately and getting some agreement with them. I suspect he won't be able to do that. Any Republican who works with him will be kicked out of their party. How will he deal with that?

So what can he do? Go to the people. Make sure that whenever the Republicans turn a serious debate into political demonization the country understands what's happening and becomes outraged. He (or his representatives) must answer every misrepresentation and make sure people know it a misrepresentation. The Republicans are always center stage attacking. If he doesn't want to attack back, he at least has to be visible responding and teaching the country how destructive the Republican tactic is. He has to do that over and over, daily, and make sure the media publishes it. Unless he can co that, I can't see how it will work.

This is an extraordinarily big gamble he is taking. If it succeeds; if he turns around the attack culture in Washington, he will go down in history as a hero. But if he fails—and so far he has—he will go down in history as a naive, failed one-term president—another Jimmy Carter—someone who perhaps was well intentioned but someone who was chewed up and spit out by the Republican attack machine.

To succeed he has to make teaching the country about the harm being done by our current political climate. That has to be one of his absolutely top priorities. He has to get the people to see that and to demand more reasonable politicians. To do that requires that he spend some time every day on it—and do it in a very visible way.

The interaction with the Republicans could be a good start. Has he done anything since? I haven't heard of anything. It has to be a ongoing day-in-and-day-out effort. Otherwise it will be forgotten as yesterdays' blog piece.

So the questions still comes down to his ability to lead. If the direction in which he wants to lead is to educate the people about how important it is to work cooperatively, he has to spend his time doing that. It won't happen otherwise.

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