Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Atmosphere

If you ask many of President Obama's supporters what about the president's performance has disappointed them or makes them unhappy, many will say he has not been combative enough, that he has not pushed hard enough for policies they believe in, that he compromises too much.

The president's opponents tend to say, on the other hand, that he has been too combative or divisive, and that he has tried to impose a left wing agenda on a conservative country.

Obviously, both critiques cannot be correct.

If you ask President Obama himself what he is disappointed or unhappy about, he does not fall into either camp. In an interview with Charlie Rose earlier this week, he says:
"And, if you asked me what is the one thing that has frustrated me most over the last four years, it's not the hard work, it's not the enormity of the decisions, it's not the pace, it is that I haven't been able to change the atmosphere here in Washington to reflect the decency and common sense of ordinary people--Democrats, Republicans and independents--who I think just want to see their leadership solve problems. And there's enough blame to go around for that."
It would be understandable if President Obama had decided to give up trying to change the political dynamics of Washington. People might expect the president to say that Republican intransigence had taught him it was a waste of time to try to reach accommodation with his adversaries. Instead the president appears to be the last man who still believes, after all he's been put through, in the dream of transcending red and blue states, putting aside excessive partisanship and divisiveness, and trying to work together constructively to solve problems in a way that serves common interests. It's also charming that the president still believes that that is what the people want also.
[T]he basic notion that we are not Democrats or Republicans first, we're Americans first, and that most of the problems that we face are solvable, not in some ideological way, but in a practical, common sense, American way, that I believe as much as ever. And I think so do the American people.

I think he's right. The institution of government people are most disgusted with is Congress, because Congress is where the most obvious signs of partisan wrangling and gridlock have exhibited themselves. President Obama, on the other hand, still enjoys pretty decent favorability ratings. That reservoir of good will is all the more remarkable considering the still sluggish state of the economy. President Obama enjoys that standing at least in part because people can see that he is still trying to work with all sides and serve common interests.

What needs to change, then, is the perception of partisans of all stripes. The president's allies on the left need to appreciate the necessity of negotiation and compromise to pass legislation and to serve the interests of all constituents. The president's opponents need to appreciate that the socialist ideologue they imagine they are dealing with is a figment of their imagination. They will get more accomplished in President Obama's next term by trying to work constructively with the other side, than they will by reflexively opposing everything the Democrats support. If those realizations would sink in, we might actually achieve some portion of the dream of fixing our broken political system that was what attracted people to President Obama in the first place.


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