Thursday, January 15, 2009

How Obama Leads

So I've been gone a while...I trust most of you know what I was up to during the election (running my own buses down to Doylestown, PA to help the Obama campaign), maybe one day I'll feel up to writing more fully on the experience. In the meantime, I've noticed something very interesting in the way that Obama has chosen to lead, and I felt compelled to share it.

Quite simply, Obama leads from the center and as someone who admits his own limited information. Given his own limited information, he expects to be lobbied by the citizens to correct flaws in his actions. This is a marked difference from the Bush administration and (from what I recall) the Clinton administration. Obama isn't concerned with being first and being right, he is concerned with being right at last...

There are three incidents in the past week that back up my belief and show the importance that citizen engagement is going to have on the Obama administration.

1) In early December, Obama announced that Pastor Rick Warren would give the convocation at his inauguration. Warren is one of the biggest names in evangelism and marks a significant conciliatory shift from the fire and brimstone of previous leaders such as Jerry Falwell. However, he is an evangelical leader and embraces many views that I (and liberals generally) oppose - in this case, most notably he opposes gay marriage. Obama supporters smarting from the passage of Prop 8 in California (which made gay marriage illegal) and Warren's role in the passage were outraged. Obama held to his guns, defending his politics of civility to those with different opinions. However, the attacks and howls of betrayal continued.

Just last week, Obama announced that he would be having Gene Robinson a gay Episcopal bishop give the commencement address at his inauguration. In doing so, Obama showed that he was susceptible to citizen pressure and that the rules applied for everyone. As much as us liberals and progressives were opposed to Warren, so too are conservatives against Warren's participation. The President-elect is showing that his rhetoric of a United states is not just rhetoric, but that he may need to be kept honest.

2) Over the past few weeks, the administration announced its plan for a recovery program. It's plan was smaller than most economists called for and included tax cuts that did not seem to have much impact on the short term economic needs. Fears spread that Obama was ceding the debate to Republicans by coming in with a plan aimed to placate them, but lacking the teeth needed to save the economy. Senators Harkin and Kerry (both Democrats) publicly expressed their concerns. Liberal economists chimed in. People began to worry whether the President-elect would fight for what's needed over what's politically expedient.

However, the President-elect was not done. He stated during an interview that he was open to anyone with a plan that might work. He also stated that this was a starting point as he expected the bill to grow. Then a few days later, he announced that due to overwhelming opposition, he was removing his plans for a business credit for each new job created (apparently the program would have been ripe for abuse and impossible to oversee). This proposal had been his alone, and he has let it go in response to the opposition from his OWN PARTY.

Since Obama had to cede ground to his own party, he was there representing the opposition to his party. By being the target of democratic doubts, he marginalized the true opposition.

3) Just last Sunday, Obama appeared on ABC and was asked about closing Gitmo, a promise he made during the election. Apparently, the transition process has revealed many of the difficulties in just shutting down the installation immediately, although he remains committed to doing so. In the interview he stated that he can not promise that it would be closed in 100 days.

A cry of outrage went out from various bases all opposed to our mistreatment of prisoners and abuse of international law that took place there. On Monday, the transition office made a statement that an executive order will be issued on Inauguration Day ordering gitmo closed. Another victory for our right to speak back to the President.

And all of a sudden, these pieces came together for me. I'm here in New York struggling to keep interest and support going among the people who volunteered with me in Pennsylvania. And I keep wondering, is the Obama team ever going to come up with a plan for us? Then it comes to me, keeping the President honest will not be opposed to what he wants, it is what he wants.

During the transition, many entrenched DC folks have taken on prominent roles in his cabinet. I'm not opposed to this, the President-Elect has recognized that they are the technocrats but that their thinking can be stale. He intends for us to pay attention to what is happening in his administration and let him know when the insiders are wrong. This isn't second guessing him, this is helping him.

Also, another interesting aspect is how the President has seemed to take a centrist position but is in fact taking a watered down liberal version. The spending bill, more progressive churches (such as Warren's) and closing Gitmo are all to the left of traditional discourse in this country. If Obama had fully embraced these issues then he would be seen as ruling from the left. Instead, he cedes a little to the right to rule from the center. Then, when his base opposes him on it, he is forced to move to the left to placate them, making it still appear as if he rules from the center, as he has embraced the left's views. He has made himself the leader of the rational right and put himself in opposition to the left - essentially cutting the entire far-right out of the debate. I don't know if it was done on purpose, but it's brilliant.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I <3 Will Finkel!!!

Seriously, you are the best.

10:33 PM  

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