Thursday, November 04, 2010

Free of "the Democratic Politics of Capitol Hill," Maybe Obama Can Govern His Way

Like House Speaker-in-Waiting John Boehner, Washington Post columnist George F. Will wants us to see Tuesday's Republican sweep of the House of Representatives, several Senate seats and a passel of governorships as A recoil against liberalism. In today's column Will argues:

This was the serious concern that percolated beneath the normal froth and nonsense of the elections: Is political power - are government commands and controls - superseding and suffocating the creativity of a market society's spontaneous order? On Tuesday, a rational and alarmed American majority said "yes."

Well, that may be what some of the majority said. However, David S. Broder, who has been a political reporter for the Washington Post since 1966 and is perhaps the most centrist political columnist at the newspaper, had a rather different take:

Some people may have voted against President Obama's party because they think he has not devoted enough energy toward fixing our economy, but the larger disappointment that fueled anti-Obama animus was that he allowed himself to be sucked into the Democratic Party's endless machinations to get better deals for their base and their contributors, which bloated the economic stimulus, the health care law and the failed energy bill into "a swollen, expensive and ineffective legislative monstrosity." The result for Obama?

Thus, a double setback to the hopes that had been aroused by his election. Instead of cooperation, the worst kind of partisanship returned. And instead of changing the way Washington operated, he seemed to ratify business as usual.

Broder, in other words, sees not so much a rejection of Obama's agenda (wherever on the spectrum it may be located) as an angry disappointment at his failure to achieve the kind of post-partisan leadership to which he aspired and which his campaign inspired us to believe was possible. Broder suggests that Obama's way forward is to try again to do things his way, not the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid way:

There will be a temptation to interpret the Democrats' loss of their House majority and of at least six Senate seats as a rejection of Obama's first-term agenda, the one on which he was elected in 2008.

What lessons should Obama draw? The worst mistake would be for him to abandon or reject his own agenda for government. If health care is to be repealed, let it be after the 2012 election when he will have a chance to defend his handiwork - not now.

Instead, he should return to his original design for governing, which emphasized outreach to Republicans and subordination of party-oriented strategies. The voters have in effect liberated him from his confining alliances with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and put him in a position where he can and must negotiate with a much wider range of legislators, including Republicans.

The president's worst mistake may have been avoiding even a single one-on-one meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell until he had been in office for a year and a half. To make up, the outreach to McConnell and likely House Speaker John Boehner should begin at once and continue as a high priority.

Obama tried governing on the model preferred by congressional Democrats and the result was the loss of Democratic seats and his own reputation. Now he should try governing his own way. It cannot work worse, and it might yield much better results.

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