Obama’s 8-Year Strategy

Obama’s 8-Year Strategy July 6, 2009

Andrew Sullivan’s take on Obama’s long game, which frustrates the both the impatient on the left and the right:

As he had once written when describing his strategy as a black man in a white world: no sudden moves. And we have seen none. Obama likes the system; he just wants to make it work for more people.

Obama is also, at his core, a community organiser. Community organisers do not jump into a situation and start bossing people around. They begin by listening, debating, cajoling, inspiring and delegating. Less deciders than ralliers, community organisers explain the options, inspire self-confidence and try to empower others, not themselves. If you think of Obama even on a global stage, this is his mojo. And those community organisers do not tell you to expect instant results. It takes time when you try to build real change from below. But the change is stronger, deeper and more real when it comes.

This critique is echoed on both left and right. The right, in its dominant neoconservative vein, is frustrated with his disdain for classic American moralising and sabre-rattling at a moment such as Iran’s stymied green revolution. The left wishes he had been more radical in taking on Wall Street, insisting on a single-payer healthcare reform and a full-bore carbon tax. Harper’s Magazine has even labelled him Barack Hoover Obama: personally brilliant, humane and pragmatic but simply not daring enough for the moment he is facing.

The Obama brigade would counter with some strong arguments. It would point out that he won a huge stimulus package from Congress very swiftly precisely because he did defer to the Hill. It would point to the first real carbon reduction legislation to be passed in the House. It would note the swift rebalancing of America’s alliances and the catalytic effect of the Cairo speech in Iran. It would note that Obama was not so indecisive in a legitimate case of purely executive decision making — as three Somali pirates shot on his orders found out.

It would also rightly argue that alternative methods of dealing with Congress — remember the Clinton White House’s presidential-driven healthcare debacle? — don’t work so well. Better an imperfect Barack victory than another Hillary nosedive. As for foreign policy toughness and clarity, Obama’s insistence that Israel cease and desist its settlement programme on the West Bank is not exactly passive-aggressive. Besides, he always said this would take time.

The more you observe, the clearer it is that Obama is working on an eight-year time cycle. He wants deep structural change, not swift superficial grandstanding and conflict. He is taking his time and keeping his cool. The question is whether a volatile electorate in a terrible economic time will be patient enough to wait.

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