Obama the community organizer

If memory serves, in more than one podcast one or another of us have mentioned that Obama’s background as a community organizer influences the way he approaches legislative negotiations. A recent article in the New York Times discusses his approach.

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 is not showing any signs of changing his style. But he is facing perhaps the toughest test yet of his powers of persuasion: winning the votes he needs, in the face of unified Republican opposition and a deteriorating climate for Democrats, to push his health care measure through a skittish Congress.

Usually, he talks policy before politics, said Senator Evan Bayh, the Indiana Democrat who recently announced that he is retiring.“He always starts off with a policy argument, making the intellectual case for his point of view,” Mr. 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?’ ”

Now some Democrats criticize this approach, claiming that it hasn’t been successful; he needs to be tougher, they say.  Jonathan Bernstein, however, critiques this critique:

In fact, the president hasn’t lost a lot of close ones in Congress so far.  The stimulus bill and health care in the Senate, and climate/energy and health care in the House, all prevailed in close votes.  There have certainly been setbacks, but those don’t seem to be the sorts of cases that personal persuasion might have turned around.  Perhaps that’s wrong — but if so, where’s the evidence from the story?

Clearly, the President has some challenges ahead. But seriously, his biggest legislative challenge right now is the supermajority requirement in the Senate.



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