...but in this great democracy of ours, that’s not the way it is.Damn! This terrible democracy. Oops, I mean this great democracy of ours.
That's from a NYT article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg that's mostly about Barack Obama's lack of skill in getting members of Congress to do what he wants. It begins with a description of a January 15th meeting in the White House, in which Obama was "playing 'marriage counselor'" with various members of Congress. Supposedly, "he coaxed, cajoled and prodded them," but in the end people, including Obama, were frustrated and angry. Stolberg then analyzes Obama's ability:
Ever since his days as a young community organizer in Chicago, Mr. Obama has held fast to the belief that by listening carefully and appealing to reason he can bring people together to get results, an approach that in Washington has often come up short.He's dealing with members of Congress, not local Chicago people. Why would his listen-and-reason approach translate easily to this new environment? Maybe he should have taken a little time to work in the Senate and get to know its ways and its characters before deciding he was ready to be President.
Mr. Obama has not been the sort to bludgeon his party into following his lead or to intimidate reluctant legislators. And while he has often succeeded by relying on Democratic leaders in Congress to do his bidding — the House and Senate, after all, both passed versions of the health legislation last year — it is not clear whether his gentle, consensus-building style will be enough.Stolberg tries to burnish the Obama image, but read between the lines: The point there is that he hasn't led. Stolberg quotes Representative Louise M. Slaughter, a New York Democrat: “If you are asking me if he dominates the room, I would have to say no.”
But his defenders and some historians say that perhaps more than any modern president since Lyndon B. Johnson, Mr. Obama has been aggressive in trying to work his will with Congress. During his 13-month-old presidency, he has had countless one-on-one meetings with lawmakers — a technique that some scholars and strategists say evokes memories of Johnson...But he's not much like Johnson. Johnson was quite a different sort of character, but he'd developed his skills by operating in the Senate for 12 years.
Members of Congress do not find him intimidating; they are more apt, said Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, to view him as “a friend.”...And why should that be enough? Do a ritual of listening and calmly laying out reasons, then tell people — nicely! — what you'd "need" them to do. I guess the members of Congress don't take orders, even if the President is nice and friendly and even if it worked in Chicago. They really do represent people in this great democracy of ours, and they quite properly stand their ground in the face of the President's ambition. It's called separation of powers.
“He always starts off with a policy argument, making the intellectual case for his point of view,” [Senator Evan] Bayh said. “Secondarily to that, there might be a discussion of some of the political ramifications, but he always starts off with, ‘Look, this is why I think this is right for the country, and I respect your point of view, I know where you are coming from, but here’s why I think we need to do it this way. Can you help me?’ ”
A reading for the day. From The Federalist Papers, Number 51:
But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.