My blogging has been light over the last few days for several reasons. Obviously, I’ve been occupied with holiday and family related activities. But I’ve also been reading David Plouffe’s new book, The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory. In addition, after months of watching Congress struggle to pass health care reform, I just needed a bit of time to decompress and think about other things. And I have a baby on the way, and that involves planning and psychological preparation. So, I’ve been restricting my political junkieism to reliving the 2008 campaign through Plouffe. I’m pretty close to being finished with the book, and I’m glad I chose to read it now because it helped me step back from the daily grind and remember what it was we thought we were trying to do in this presidency. Overall, I’ve found the experience bolstering to my optimism. I do feel like the Obama administration is going through one of its down phases, like many they faced during the interminable path to the White House. But I have been reminded of how they, time and time again, were able to step back and reset their course when they found they had strayed from their strategy and principles during the campaign. It’s makes me feel more confident that they’ll be able to do the same during this first term.
From my perspective, they’ve been swallowed up too much by the Washington culture that they so successfully resisted during the campaign. They came in hoping to change things up, but were met with iron resistance from the Republican Party. Obama wanted to be pragmatic, which meant that his instinct was to forge a new kind of bipartisan compromise. It wasn’t triangulation exactly, because triangulation was an almost wholly cynical enterprise. Obama wanted something more authentic. But that required the other side to provide members of good will. So far, they have been lacking.
The effort to change Washington has failed. The administration now needs to step back and realize that he may not be able to change Washington but that he can lead it. I’ll have more to say on these ideas after I finish Plouffe’s book.