So here was an interesting passage I came across in "The Bridge":
Almost from the start, Obama attracted attention at Harvard for the confidence of his bearing and his way of absorbing and synthesizing the arguments of others in a way that made even the most strident opponent feel understood. Once, at a debate over affirmative action with the staff of the Harvard Law Review, Obama spoke as if he were threading together the various arguments in the room, weighing their relative strengths, never judging or dismissing a point of view. "If anybody had walked by, they would have assumed he was a professor," Thomas J. Perrelli, a friend of Obama's who went on to work in his Justice Department, said....
There's lots of interest on almost any page of the Remnick, but the first paragraph of the section I quoted above is interesting beyond its context for my little Orlyanka jibe (above).
Certainly the GOP have been "strident opponents" -- so why haven't they shown that they "feel understood" (such as when, for example, so much of the Health Care Reform bill was tailored for the likes of Olympia Snowe, who eventually voted against it).
One obvious reason -- almost certainly the most salient -- is that the question is ridiculous: pure politics dictates that you don't "show" that you feel "understood." At least the scorched earth politics of the day dictates this.
But I am thinking of a subtler reason: much of the "strident opposition" is not honest. It is solely
political, with no true conviction or principle behind it, or under it. In a way, by playing this dumbshow to Obama's strength (synthesis, conciliation, balance), they have defanged him. Of what use is "yes, I see where you are coming from, and let's talk about how to reach common cause," when one's adversary is not actually "coming from" anywhere?
Jodi Kantor in The Obamas
makes this point in the context of the stimulus bill, very early in the administration:
Not this time. The stimulus passed without a single Republican vote in the House and only three in the Senate, a worrying sign for the Obama promise of bipartisanship.
The Republican strategy was led by Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, a Kentuckian with large, calm eyes, and as natural a foil to the president as any novelist could have conjured up. Obama’s political career could be seen as a quest to be accepted; McConnell relished being vilified, hanging unflattering editorial cartoons on the walls of his Senate office. Where Obama was subtle and intellectual, McConnell was a tough, canny tactician who believed in brute repetition of anxiety-inducing messages about the mounting federal deficit, bailouts, and terrorist attacks. Facing Democratic control of Capitol Hill and the White House, not to mention a party that seemed adrift, McConnell told Republicans that the key to remaining relevant was voting together to oppose Obama’s agenda. Together they could deny him the bipartisan label he craved and make his agenda look one-sided, even extreme.
I had previously thought that GOP obstructionism (as an echo of Limbaugh's "I hope he fails") was purely a long game -- that they simply hoped to deny this Presidency as much accomplishment and momentum as possible, thus weakening Obama for 2012; but these writers are convincing me that the tactic (bolstered by Fox News' 24/7 negativism and many, many lies) paid off quickly, and more damagingly: it denied Obama the opportunity to do the one thing he knew to do with an adversary -- turn them into a sort of partner.
I believe Obama has learned a few tricks since then. But the big question seems to be whether he can win back the women, the youth, the environmentalists, and the progressive base, with enough enthusiasm to bring them to the polls, and especially with enough enthusiasm to win back the House.