Archive | September, 2010

The Charmer and The Manager

23 Sep

photocredit: ProgressOhio

Who’s to credit for a massive legislative success like healthcare reform? Obama, Pelosi, Emmanuel…Reid? It may be a question that can’t be answered objetively, and wont be answered for years and memoirs to come. Its passage, however, realized the failed hopes of a handful of past presidents who couldn’t even come close. Presidents like Bill Clinton.

President Clinton has not only redefined the terms for the post-presidential president with the Clinton Global Initiative, but has shed most, if not all, of his political baggage. A feat that is not easy to do–just ask Nixon, Carter, or Buchanan. He is rebranding himself as a global ambassador, capable of rescuing hostages, solving world crises, and partnering with foes in the name of the greater good.

Listening to him speak on The Daily Show recently (clip below) reminded us why he was president, and why he is more influential now than any other modern ex-president. His command of language is not intellectual, but emotional. He can persuade and seduce, and nudge you toward your “own” conclusions. These persuasive super-powers are not new; they’ve got him out of many jams in the past. But they are refreshing in a political climate that is livid, tense, and middling.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – Bill Clinton Extended Interview Pt. 2
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If he can charm our pants off today (no pun intended), why didn’t he convince America on the necessity of healthcare reform during his presidency, 18 years ago?

He probably did convince us, but he lacked managerial expertise to handle Congress, his own party, and public opinion. This is one of the reasons Obama can claim the mantle of healthcare reformer no other president can.

President Obama is a born manager. These skills may have been honed during his tenure as a community organizer, but they are natural, and helped him reach extraordinary achievements in that capacity in a short amount of time. There was no real ramp-up period. As a candidate, he assembled a campaign team any politician would give up their spouse for. His candidacy was one of the most gaffe-free, convincing in recent history. As a president, his cabinet, with a few exceptions, has been a disciplined, on-message, conflict-free grouping of political supernovas. Only an extraordinary manager could keep each ego in check, while using each member’s talents for the administration’s good.

During the agonizingly long healthcare reform legislative process, Obama kept his cool, as any good manager should, and empowered accordingly. In this regard, one could argue that Obama is the person responsible for its passage, for he gave Pelosi and Reid a considerable amount of freedom as to how to work the process. Once things were falling off the railings, he would step in to tip it back in place and clean  up the damage. It would’ve been a much shorter process had he been more involved, but it may have also become Hillarycare all over again: the Democrats rebelling against it’s party leader after feeling like subordinates in the process.

What the president needs now is more salesman Clinton, less professor Obama. He needs to bring in the former president, informally or (preferably) formally, to his cabinet. President Clinton possesses a different set of skills that an administration lacking a clear and convincing message needs. As Axelrod and Summers plan their exit in the coming weeks, maybe it’s time to consider adding another Clinton to the White House staff. The last time both were inside, the country was in a much better mood. Why not try a proven pitchman?


The Republican Identity Crisis

17 Sep

photocredit: i_yudai

Who is Don Draper? Oops, wrong topic.

Who is a Republican? Ever since the Democrats swept into Congress, and Obama swept into the Oval Office, the Republican party has to grapple with this question. George Bush’s “Big Tent” party model was questioned and contested. Big Tent dissenters believed the party lost because it also lost its moral compass, it raison d’etre. Can anyone just prance into the tent and become a Republican, backed by the party and its members?

Being too politically tolerant was seen by many Republicans as the reason for their downfall.

Exhibit A: John McCain. All in all, Senator McCain has been a rebel of sorts within his party (although not recently, and not to the extent he’d like to believe). He was moderate, or sometimes even left-leaning, on various fundamental issues. He also failed the ultimate GOP test various times: he voted against party lines. The purists felt his inclusion into the party, and his eventual nomination as the party’s presidential candidate, was a mistake that should’ve never happened. He lost the election because he was never a true Republican to begin with. He had no rigid set of beliefs. He was not an ideologue.

While it’s harder to define what Democrat ideology is today (they have opted for the Big Tent strategy, and have already gone through some of the birthing pains), Republican ideology is much easier to peg. The modern party itself has never veered left-of-center, and “liberal Republican” is enough of a curse to sway any lefty to check themselves before joining the ensemble. With few exceptions, conservative politics and Republican politics have made loyal bed fellows.

But about those exceptions: are they weakening the GOP?

The Tea Party is currently making the case of rotten limbs. Cut them off, don’t let the weakening poison spread, and strengthen the healthy remainders. The Tea Party sees itself as the purest conservatives in existence, incorruptible, and loyal to the ideology. And they are succeeding. Darkhorse victories and surprising upsets, like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, have made this movement a politically successful one so far. It has also already sparked some clashes between the Old and New Guard.

The next step is making the case to those outside the party. Mainstream voters must be convinced that a good Republican is also a good senator or governor. Time will tell if that will happen. I don’t think it will, even with the anti-establishment mood we are in.

If it does happen, and Tea Partiers can claim seats of power, the Republican party may have made up their mind (or been forced to accept reality) as to what kind of party they will be.

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