Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to Build a Movement for Change

On his first full day in office, President Obama pledged unprecedented openness and instituted sweeping ethics reforms. On his second full day, he ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, and adherence to the Army Field Manual for interrogations. Then he appointed one of the world's most respected mediators, George Mitchell, to get to work immediately on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Anyone who thought based on Obama's appointments that he was going to be too conservative or cautious should be very encouraged by these bold moves. The method, as Obama stressed throughout the campaign, has been to build as much support for change as possible, across as wide a part of the political spectrum as possible. That means that you first build a huge well-funded grassroots organization, then when you get elected you convince Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton and a whole lot of other respectable people to join your team, you flatter your opponents such as by holding a dinner honoring John McCain. Then you can marginalize the Rush Limbaughs and whomever else is left to attack you. With favorability ratings of 80%, with appointments generally sailing through Congress, and Republicans afraid to criticize him, Obama suddenly makes it look easy to get things done. I can't resist comparing these first few days to the start of Bill Clinton's presidency, which almost immediately got derailed, through both bad luck and blunders, into unproductive controversies over appointments that were seen as too radical (remember Lani Guinier?), gays in the military, and Waco. Barack Obama has clearly learned from this counter-example.

So far it looks as though Obama's hard-earned method of building consensus is working well in the foreign policy area. On the economic front, the picture is a bit uglier, with partisan battles already starting to form in the House especially, but the consensus for a giant stimulus bill is already there. We should all be proud of the direction in which the new administration is moving, and the inclusive way in which decisions are being made.

No comments:

Post a Comment