[Guest post by DRJ]
There’s an interesting Newsweek Q&A of Barack Obama in which he continues to try to marginalize the GOP by painting it as impractical and its leaders as extreme, a theme he and his political advisers clearly like because they hit it every time they can.
However, I was struck by Obama’s description of how he approaches policy issues with people who don’t agree with him. Specifically, I was intrigued with this answer to whether there has been “… a moment when you’ve said something or mused out loud in a way that a senator or even a candidate could have done, but a president can’t do:”
“You know, precisely because I realized it pretty quickly, I think that I’ve been fairly careful about how you use the microphone. I’m sure I have made remarks that, in retrospect, I would have polished up a little bit more, and I’m sure that there’s more to come on the gaffe front.
But one of the things I’ve actually been encouraged by—and I learned during the campaign—was the American people, I think, not only have a toleration but also a hunger for explanation and complexity, and a willingness to acknowledge hard problems. I think one of the biggest mistakes that is made in Washington is this notion you have to dumb things down for the public. I’ve always been struck by the fact that, if you can get me in a room with a group of people, even who disagree with me violently on an issue, they’ll still take the time to listen. They might not, at the end of it, agree with me, but having seen how I’m thinking about a problem, having a sense of how I’m making decisions, that I understand their point of view, that I can actually make their argument for them, and that that’s part of the decision-making process, it gives them a sense, at least, that they’ve been heard, and I think clarifies—well, it pushes us away from the dogmas and caricatures that I think get in the way of good policymaking and a more civil tone in our politics.”
I doubt the Chrysler bondholders, GM’s former President, the AIG bonus recipients, and the health care leaders who met with Obama last week feel like he heard their concerns. Instead, I suspect they felt more like the Republican leaders who, in one of their first meetings with a newly inaugurated Obama, were matter-of-factly told “I won.”