November 03, 2010

Where Obama went wrong

Some analyses of where Obama went wrong in the 2010 election:

How Obama Lost His Voice, and How He Can Get It Back

Barack Obama went from being a transformational leader in the campaign to a transactional one as president. It didn't work, and he must reverse course.

By Marshall Ganz
This dramatic reversal is not the result of bad policy as such; the president made some real policy gains. It is not a consequence of a president who is too liberal, too conservative or too centrist. And it is not the doing of an administration ignorant of Washington's ways. Nor can we honestly blame the system, the media or the public—the ground on which presidential politics is always played.

It is the result, ironically, of poor leadership choices.

Abandoning the "transformational" model of his presidential campaign, Obama has tried to govern as a "transactional" leader. These terms were coined by political scientist James MacGregor Burns 30 years ago. "Transformational" leadership engages followers in the risky and often exhilarating work of changing the world, work that often changes the activists themselves. Its sources are shared values that become wellsprings of the courage, creativity and hope needed to open new pathways to success. "Transactional" leadership, on the other hand, is about horse-trading, operating within the routine, and it is practiced to maintain, rather than change, the status quo.

The nation was ready for transformation, but the president gave us transaction. And, as is the case with leadership failures, much of the public's anger, disappointment and frustration has been turned on a leader who failed to lead.

Obama and his team made three crucial choices that undermined the president's transformational mission. First, he abandoned the bully pulpit of moral argument and public education. Next, he chose to lead with a politics of compromise rather than advocacy. And finally, he chose to demobilize the movement that elected him president. By shifting focus from a public ready to drive change—as in "yes we can"—he shifted the focus to himself and attempted to negotiate change from the inside, as in "yes I can."
More on what Obama didn't do and should do if he wants to win in 2012:

Why Obama Should Learn the Lesson of 1936, not 1996

By Robert ReichFor the next two years Republicans will try to paint Obama as a big-government liberal out of touch with America, who’s responsible for the continuing bad economy.

Obama won’t be able to win this argument by moving to the center—seeking to paint himself as a smaller-government moderate. This only confirms the Republican’s views that the central issue is size of government, that it’s been too large, and the economy can improve only if it’s smaller.

On the Republican playing field, Republicans always win.

Obama’s best hope of reelection will be to reframe the debate, making the central issue the power of big businesses and Wall Street to gain economic advantage at the expense of the rest of us. This is the Democratic playing field, and it’s more relevant today than at any time since the 1930s.

The top 1 percent of Americans, by income, is now taking home almost a quarter of all income, and accounting for almost 40 percent of all wealth. Meanwhile, large numbers of Americans are losing their homes because banks won’t let them reorganize their mortgages under bankruptcy. And corporations continue to lay off (and not rehire) even larger numbers.

With Republicans controlling more of Congress, their pending votes against extended unemployment benefits, jobs bills, and work programs will more sharply reveal whose side they’re on. Their attempt to extort extended tax cuts for the wealthy by threatening tax increases on the middle class will offer even more evidence. As will their refusal to disclose their sources of campaign funding.
Here's what Obama did right. But since he didn't communicate this well, and let the Republican Tea Party dominate the conversation, he might as well not have done it.

How Obama Saved Capitalism and Lost the Midterms

By Timothy EganThe banking system was resuscitated by $700 billion in bailouts started by Bush (a fact unknown by a majority of Americans), and finished by Obama, with help from the Federal Reserve. It worked. The government is expected to break even on a risky bet to stabilize the global free market system. Had Obama followed the populist instincts of many in his party, the underpinnings of big capitalism could have collapsed. He did this without nationalizing banks, as other Democrats had urged.

Saving the American auto industry, which has been a huge drag on Obama’s political capital, is a monumental achievement that few appreciate, unless you live in Michigan. After getting their taxpayer lifeline from Obama, both General Motors and Chrysler are now making money by making cars. New plants are even scheduled to open. More than 1 million jobs would have disappeared had the domestic auto sector been liquidated.

“An apology is due Barack Obama,” wrote The Economist, which had opposed the $86 billion auto bailout. As for Government Motors: after emerging from bankruptcy, it will go public with a new stock offering in just a few weeks, and the United States government, with its 60 percent share of common stock, stands to make a profit. Yes, an industry was saved, and the government will probably make money on the deal—one of Obama’s signature economic successes.

Interest rates are at record lows. Corporate profits are lighting up boardrooms; it is one of the best years for earnings in a decade.

All of the above is good for capitalism, and should end any serious-minded discussion about Obama the socialist. But more than anything, the fact that the president took on the structural flaws of a broken free enterprise system instead of focusing on things that the average voter could understand explains why his party was routed on Tuesday. Obama got on the wrong side of voter anxiety in a decade of diminished fortunes.
Plus more snarky tweets on the subject:Remember all those articles claiming Obama is a clever strategist who plans several moves ahead? Was this election part of his plan too?

News flash:  House Republicans say they intend to reduce the size of government. I guess there's a first time for everything.

Inside Obama's mind:  "If I give Republicans half, they'll give me the other half. It didn't work before, but it should work now." Uh-huh.

The Republican Tea Party prepares to implement the billionaire Koch agenda for the little people. Tax breaks for me, empty rhetoric for you.

Anybody still think BHO is the second coming of FDR, JFK, or LBJ? Discuss.

Election summary:  Teabaggers buy bread and circuses, vote to continue enriching their corporate masters aka the military-industrial complex.

Mitch McConnell:  Dumping Obama in 2012 is the only way to achieve the GOP agenda of rich white Christians ruling the country in perpetuity.
Comment:  This posting is relevant to Newspaper Rock for a couple reasons:

1) The Indians' future is tied to Obama's future. Indians did worse under George "Sovereignty is...sovereignty" Bush and are doing better under Obama. No one who's poor wants to return to the era of slashed budgets and callous neglect.

2) What Obama needs to do is what liberal activists need to do. Namely, articulate a vision and educate the public about it.

For instance, critic Michael Cooke has suggested that Native stereotypes don't matter and aren't worth a protest. He'd prefer to sweep them under the rug and ignore them. I've said the opposite: that Indians and their supporters should protest them loud and clear. That we should keep explaining the harm of Native stereotypes and insisting on change until everyone gets it.

The Cooke approach has accomplished nothing. The activist approach has caused real and lasting change ever since it took off in the 1960s. We continue to see its worth in issues ranging from healthcare reform to gay marriage. Nothing in the political arena happens "organically" like a flower blossoming on its own. It happens because people demand change with well-reasoned and passionate arguments.

Obama's approach--letting Congress lead on legislation, staying out of the fray, not communicating his views, letting the facts speak for themselves--hasn't done much better than Cooke's. Like Cooke, it seems Obama hoped change would occur organically, without his leadership. He needs to do what I do here: challenge the status quo, frame the debate differently, and say why he's right and his opponents are wrong.

For more on the election, see 2010 Election Doesn't Matter and At the Restore Sanity Rally. For more on the efficacy of protests, see Comic-Con Protest vs. Dudesons Protest and Indians Shouldn't Act Uppity?

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