I’d like to draw your attention to a post from Walter Russell Mead, a sort of midway status report of the first term of the Obama Administration:
The President looks like a man who is ridden by events; at just the moment when the nation craves a strong leader, the President looks weak, dodgy, uncertain. The contrast with the inflated hopes that an untested and inexperienced Senator Obama did so much to build up is crippling. Obama has fallen so far precisely because he and his supporters so hugely oversold him.
He once despised Bill Clinton for the comprising and triangulating that got him through his eight years. President Obama was going to do it differently: he was going to fight and win.
Perhaps he will; politics is full of surprises and it is still almost a year and a half until the election. But at the moment the President seems to be envying Clinton’s talents and attempting to emulate rather than scorn them. From anti-Clinton to aspiring Clinton is a long fall and it can’t be much fun.
We are starting to get to know this President a little better, and his chief besetting fault is increasingly clear: the President falls between stools. He is a man of half measures, a man who spends so much money hedging his bets that he loses even when he wins.
Time and again the President angers one side without conciliating the other. His public demand that Israel agree to a complete settlement freeze as a condition for peace talks alienated Israelis (and not just supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu); his subsequent back peddling humiliated and angered the Palestinians. He pleased no one, fumbled what he had once proclaimed a crucial priority of his administration, and is left with reduced influence with both sides.
At home the President’s hedging has antagonized and energized the right without delivering the goods to his base on the left. The health care bill was so watered down from what candidate Obama proposed on the stump that key constituencies on the left were dismayed; the change was so large that the right was energized; the legislation so compromised and misshapen that it failed to satisfy. The stimulus was the same: large enough to stir up the deficit hawks but too small (and too poorly constructed) to launch a “V” shaped recovery. In the Middle East he has been too cautious and slow in siding with the revolutionaries to dent American unpopularity in the region — but by dropping US support for longtime ally Hosni Mubarak he antagonized and alarmed the Saudis.
followed by a detailed exegesis of President Obama’s decision-making style.
I cannot know what his decision-making style is. If, indeed, the president’s approach to compromise is as Dr. Mead suggests:
This repeated lunge for the sour spot — the place where costs are high and benefits are low — now seems to be a trademark of the President’s decision-making style. On the left it is earning him Carter comparisons from people like Eric Alterman; on the right it means that despite his compromises and yielding of significant ground he continues to feed the incandescent hostility of his bitterest foes. Worst of all, it suggests to people abroad and at home that the way to manipulate this “split the difference”, consensus-seeking President is to raise your demands. If you are going to get something like 50 percent of what you ask for, ask for twice as much as you really want. And with this Presidential style, the squeaking wheel gets the grease. Not surprisingly, all the wheels have begun to squeak.
then I would claim that isn’t compromise at all. It’s merely detente and barely that. Compromise doesn’t mean mechanically splitting the difference; it means searching for common ground. When there is no common ground or the common ground isn’t sufficient to form the basis for a solution, no solution is possible. It is a wicked problem and the most that can be accomplished is to create the basis for ongoing communication.
I’ve made this analogy before but I think it bears repeating. If one group wants to build a bridge across the river and the other group wants no bridge across the river, building a bridge halfway across the river is no compromise. Everybody loses; nobody wins; everybody is worse off.
I continue to believe that President Obama will be re-elected. We tend to re-elect presidents and, barring an economic catastrophe that can’t be smoothed over with creative accounting, he will be. However, I also think we’re in for a bumpy ride.