Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Post Election Post Mortem

Opinions on the causes of the election are a bit of a Rorschach test. The Blue Dogs think the Democrats need to move to the center, the Progressives think the Democrats should be more liberal, and the Republicans think that the Democrats should do whatever the Republicans want.

The best answer so far comes from Marshall Ganz, who helped create Obama's 2008 grassroots network. He believes that there's been a failure of leadership; that after the election, Obama shifted from a transformational to a transactional mode in the face of the immediate problems facing the country. In doing so, he gave up his leadership potential and created the situation we're now in.
Obama and his team made three crucial choices that undermined the president's transformational mission. First, he abandoned the bully pulpit of moral argument and public education. Next, he chose to lead with a politics of compromise rather than advocacy. And finally, he chose to demobilize the movement that elected him president. By shifting focus from a public ready to drive change — as in "yes we can" — he shifted the focus to himself and attempted to negotiate change from the inside, as in "yes I can."

During the presidential campaign, Obama inspired the nation not by delivering a poll-driven message but by telling a story that revealed the person within — within him and within us. In his Philadelphia speech on race, we learned of his gift not only for moral uplift but for "public education" in the deepest sense, bringing us to a new understanding of the albatross of racial politics that has burdened us since our founding.

On assuming office, something seemed to go out of the president's speeches, out of the speaker and, as a result, out of us. Obama was suddenly strangely absent from the public discourse. We found ourselves in the grip of an economic crisis brought on by 40 years of anti-government rhetoric, policy and practices, but we listened in vain for an economic version of the race speech. What had gone wrong? Who was responsible? What could we do to help the president deal with it?

And even when he decided to pursue healthcare reform as his top priority, where were the moral arguments or an honest account of insurance and drug industry opposition?

In his transactional leadership mode, the president chose compromise rather than advocacy. Instead of speaking on behalf of a deeply distressed public, articulating clear positions to lead opinion and inspire public support, Obama seemed to think that by acting as a mediator, he could translate Washington dysfunction into legislative accomplishment. Confusing bipartisanship in the electorate with bipartisanship in Congress, he lost the former by his feckless pursuit of the latter, empowering the very people most committed to bringing down his presidency.

Read the op-ed at it's good strategic thinking, and is essential for anyone tryingto understand the current political landscape.

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