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Opinion

Opinion

Obama should keep goals, shift methods

November 4, 2010

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— The message to President Obama from Tuesday’s election could not have been plainer: Don’t abandon your goals. Change your way of operating.

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.

American voters are not that flighty or unsettled. What happened was that Obama ran into several crises that he and others had not anticipated, and the cumulative weight of those problems ended up frustrating him.

The biggest problem by far was the economy, the virtual collapse of the financial system starting in the autumn of 2008 while George W. Bush was still president. That eased Obama’s path to the presidency but it saddled him with a huge and lingering burden once he was in office.

He was also burdened by the legacy of two wars and a backlog of unmet domestic needs, ranging from a dysfunctional health care system to undernourished infrastructure and energy sectors.

Facing all these challenges at once, Obama did what seemed natural. He turned to his outsize Democratic majorities in Congress and said essentially, “Folks, I need you to fix this.”

The Democrats on Capitol Hill were eager to respond, but they did so in the way that they always will. Instead of acting promptly and with discipline, they dallied and used the delays to bargain for better benefits for their constituents and contributors.

What began as a sound economic stimulus, along with health care and energy bills, became a swollen expensive and ineffective legislative monstrosity.

Somewhere along the way, Obama lost sight of his campaign pledge to enlist Republican ideas and votes. Maybe they were never there to be had, but he never truly tested it. And the deeper he became enmeshed in the Democratic politics of Capitol Hill, the less incentive there was for any Republican to contribute to his success.

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.

In the end, a paradox: massive public repudiation of the record of a Congress and administration that accomplished large goals, including the passage of major economic measures and a historic health care bill; and the empowerment of a Republican opposition that had done almost nothing to offer alternatives of its own.

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.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. davidbroder@washpost.com

Comments

cato_the_elder 4 years, 2 months ago

Just the Lies, your grapes are just as sour as Broder's. Live with it.

whats_going_on 4 years, 2 months ago

pretty sure you shouldn't be talking about drinking cool-aid either...I haven't seen an original thought come out of your keyboard since i started posting.

cato_the_elder 4 years, 2 months ago

Which is undoubtedly because you wouldn't know one if you saw it.

rbwaa 4 years, 2 months ago

Broder must have forgotten that an attempt was made to involve republicans in the health care legislation, compromises were made and republicans still voted NO. they have continued to assert that they are going to subvert Obama so he will fail with everything he proposes...

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 2 months ago

Broder is too much of an inside-the-beltway Democrat to call it like it really is.

There are primary reasons for these election results.

Obama governed from the right, not from the left as he had campaigned, thus he lost a substantial part of the electorate that put him in office.

Republicans through their various organs of propaganda whipped up the birthers with an endless and well-financed campaign of fearmongering and disinformation that shifted all the blame for the messes that they largely created to Obama, simply because he was unable to clean up after them in less than two years.

The real message-- never underestimate the stupidity of at least a percentage of the American electorate.

Slaphappy 4 years, 2 months ago

The real message-- never underestimate the stupidity of at least a percentage of the American electorate.

You stole that line from Obama, right?

grammaddy 4 years, 2 months ago

I think you've hit the nail on the head Bozo.Don't forget the youth vote. Only 7% showed up for this election.They'll be back out in full force when Obama's name appears on the ticket again.And the Republicans will have alienated all minorities by then, too.

notajayhawk 4 years, 2 months ago

"They'll be back out in full force when Obama's name appears on the ticket again."

Or maybe they'll have grown up by then and realize what a foolish mistake they made when they were children.

bruno2 4 years, 2 months ago

Not according to the vast majority of recent college grads I know. Problem was they were too busy trying to find a job. Who rejected you to make you so bitter to your generation?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 2 months ago

Lots of people didn't vote. Some because they just couldn't be bothered, but lots of others, especially young ones, because they are disappointed in the Democrats, and disgusted with the Republicans.

Victor Dawson 4 years, 2 months ago

"The real message- never underestimate the stupidity of at least a percentage of the American electorate."

Now, that is beautiful stuff!

whats_going_on 4 years, 2 months ago

"Clinton tacked to the center and was re-elected, complements of the new Republican congress. "

If thats true, I can only hope Obama follows his lead since things just changed

4 years, 2 months ago

This story hits the nail on the head. The GOP will road block everything that won't line their pockets and will alienate anyone that isn't in Banking, the Oil Business, Gun Manufacturers, or just born rich before the next election.

Flap Doodle 4 years, 2 months ago

Doubling down on stupid gets you double stupid. I could see the mope that lives at 1600 Penn. Ave. doing that.

Flap Doodle 4 years, 2 months ago

So the goose doesn't like the sauce that was so liberally applied to the gander from 2000 to 2008? Hard cheese, skippy.

gl0ck0wn3r 4 years, 2 months ago

Is it just me that finds it ironic that someone is complaining anonymously about an anonymous person using somewhat disrespectful language while using much more disrespectful language?

notajayhawk 4 years, 2 months ago

"Obama should keep goals, shift methods"

Dear Mr. Broder:

Duh!

It's always about the "methods". Believe it or not, everyone has the same goals.

Both sides want the economy foxed. The disagreement is in the methods used to accomplish this goal.

Both sides want everyone to have access to quality, affordable health care. The disagreement is in the methods used to accomplish this goal.

Both sides want the war to end, to have peace and security. The disagreement is in the methods used to accomplish this goal.

Both sides want an end to hunger and poverty and homelessness, and prosperity for everyone. The disagreement is in the methods used to accomplish this goal.

Should Obama have everything fixed by now? Of course not, and I, for one, have never said as much. But he's had enough time to show us what methods he's been trying to use, and wants to continue to use, to reach the goals both sides share. And the election (which verified the opinion polls) demonstrates that a majority of the country believes his methods are taking us in the wrong direction, away from the goals everyone wants.

notajayhawk 4 years, 2 months ago

"economy foxed" should be "fixed".

I think. ;-)

whats_going_on 4 years, 2 months ago

actually, I kind of agree with you on all those points. He needs to settle down if he wants cooperation from anyone, especially the right leaners

notajayhawk 4 years, 2 months ago

Thanks, but it couldn't have been too good, because I don't seem to have gotten the point I was trying to make across. :)

Health care is the perfect example. I didn't mean to imply the problem was in how Obama and the Democrats tried to sell their reform package. It was the package that's the problem. As I mentioned in my post, both sides want the same ultimate goal, of increasing access to quality, affordable health care. The legislation that was passed is the Democrats' method of achieving that goal, it isn't the goal. In other words, everyone wants reform. The disagreement is on how we reform the system.

It simply isn't true that the Republicans fought to stop any change at all. That is the attitude I was trying to dispel with my post - that just because one party won't accept this proposal, all of it, right now, they must want the status quo to continue. The Republicans had counter proposals. They were not allowed out of committee or to come to a floor vote. Obama even said he would include some of their proposals in the final bill, after Kennedy's Senate seat was lost. That didn't happen.

"TARP, stimulus/deficit spending and so forth was an absolute MUST and it has helped stabilize things."

Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

jafs 4 years, 2 months ago

Hi.

I think it's pretty clear that the angry partisanship has been revealed.

notajayhawk 4 years, 2 months ago

"Previous administrations and congresses had their chance and did nothing about the health care spending in this country."

Previous Republican AND Democratic administrations and Congresses.

"Also, it wasn't UNTIL the President made it clear that this was going to happen that any suggestions came forward."

This is patently false. It's harder to find them now, but a year ago it was easy to find Republican counter-proposals with a Google search. They were there. They didn't get a lot of press play, which is why they're harder to find now.

And I hate to point out the obvious, but were McCain's proposals during the campaign suggestions that didn't come forward "UNTIL the President made it clear that this was going to happen"? How is that possible? Incidentally, none of McCain's proposals were new. You can find most of them in the official party platform at least as far back as when Dole was the Republican candidate for president.

I'm not saying all the Republican ideas were perfect, or even the best proposals. I'm not even saying they were any better than the Democrats'. But to say they didn't exist is just wrong.

"was bailout and stimulus a bad idea when President Bush did it, or was it just a bad idea because a democrat did it"

I'm not overly thrilled that either did it. But at least so far almost two-thirds of the money Bush gave to the banks and insurance companies has been paid back, and they're on track to actually turn a profit on that (at a better return rate than treasuries). It doesn't look like we'll ever get everything back from the car companies, not to mention the car companies will never get back the stock Obama gave the unions, and the smaller creditors that the administration cut out of the bankruptcies will never get their money back. The rest of his spending was wasted money we'll never see again (until they print more, of course - oh, wait ... ).

notajayhawk 4 years, 2 months ago

"I thought I was clear in blaming all of them."

You were. I was reiterating.

"I would have to spend some time on researching these ideas or campaign issues of McCain but my recollection is that they were pretty thin on substance and not wanting to tackle the Insurance industry"

Sounds like what we got. The biggest beneficiaries of the legislation as passed are the insurance companies. And it does nothing to address what should have been the only thing it addressed - the cost of health care, not how we pay for it.

"And how much did it cost to write checks when Bush directed the treasury to send everyone $600?"

Roughly the same as it cost for Obama to give them all $10 or so per week.

"I appreciated it but it did nothing to bolster the economy"

We spent ours.

"some "sanity" has got to come over all of these people"

My, my, you ARE a dreamer! :-)

George Lippencott 4 years, 2 months ago

Did the electorate reject the methods, the goals or both?? Maybe they just are too stupid to understand

jafs 4 years, 2 months ago

It's hard to say - we're talking about a lot of individuals, who may very well have different reasons for how they voted.

I think a large number of people are tired of the partisan nonsense, and would like for our government to work to solve our problems.

But that's just my opinion.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 2 months ago

What happened is that there was a small but significant shift among independents away from Democrats (in 2006 and 2008) to Republicans in 2010. There was also a better turnout among conservative voters since 2006 and 2008, and a slightly smaller turnout among young and minority voters, who voted heavily Democratic in 2006 and 2008.

So there really has been no sea change in how Americans see the world. It's a two-party system, so when you're upset with the party in power, there are very few ways for voters to express that, and that's the only reason Republicans did so well in this election. I suspect the majority of Americans are very concerned that this will blow up in their faces (again.)

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 2 months ago

Yep-- if there'd have been a reasonable alternative, I'd have voted against the Dems, too.

JayCat_67 4 years, 2 months ago

Amazing how there seems to be so much civility and agreement on this thread today. Now, what can we do with it?

jafs 4 years, 2 months ago

We can continue to operate in that manner, and ignore those who choose to abuse, insult and personally attack rather than speak civilly.

Jimo 4 years, 2 months ago

I believe they just voted for calorie free chocolate cake.

Good luck with that.

booyalab 4 years, 2 months ago

"The message to President Obama from Tuesday’s election could not have been plainer: Don’t abandon your goals. Change your way of operating."

And how was this conclusion arrived at? What would it have looked like if the message was to abandon his goals?

"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."

You mean when he promised not to raise taxes on families who made under $250,000, no earmarks, not to mandate health insurance, to cut spending, to lower unemployment, heal the planet, and whiten our teeth while we sleep.

Flap Doodle 4 years, 2 months ago

Don't forget that one of the Senate seats that the Democrats lost was the very one Barry had occupied.

booyalab 4 years, 2 months ago

The voters didn't like the way he was sitting in it.

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 2 months ago

Obama reminded me sometimes of a man who is supremely talented for the job but at the same time too inexperienced or too overwhelmed by the problems he faced.

We are hard on our Presidents.

I think when they leave office most of us feel a little guilty about being too hard on them. I think after Obama leaves office we will start to realize that he was not the demon some folks are painting him out to be and in the end, he may become, as an ex-President, one of our most beloved leaders.

Time will tell.

I think Americans have become nervous about spending and would rather buckle down and a lot of people have dramatically changed their life styles and want the government to do the same in regards to money. So I doubt a huge tax cut for the Republicans will be as popular as they hope.

Flap Doodle 4 years, 2 months ago

Speaking of shifting things, MSNBC has flushed Olbermann.

notajayhawk 4 years, 2 months ago

That same Olbermann who said "We now have another million reasons Fox News is the Republican news channel."

I don't see why his contributions were such a big deal, though. It's not as if anyone could have mistaken him for impartial.

Flap Doodle 4 years, 2 months ago

MSNBC wanted a fall guy. Plus he had one of the politicians he'd donated to on his show.

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