View Full Version : Obama's Very Good Week

john l
12-10-2010, 07:46 AM
Obamaís Very Good Week
Published: December 9, 2010

Over the past week weíve seen the big differences between cluster liberals and network liberals. Cluster liberals (like cluster conservatives) view politics as a battle between implacable opponents. As a result, they believe victory is achieved through maximum unity. Psychologically, they tend to value loyalty and solidarity. They tend to angle toward situations in which philosophical lines are clearly drawn and partisan might can be bluntly applied.

Network liberals share the same goals and emerge from the same movement. But they tend to believe ó the nation being as diverse as it is and the Constitution saying what it does ó that politics is a complex jockeying of ideas and interests. They believe progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. Psychologically, network liberals are comfortable with weak ties; they are comfortable building relationships with people they disagree with.

This contrast is not between lefties and moderates. Itís a contrast between different theories of how politics is done. Ted Kennedy was a network liberal, willing to stray from his preferences in negotiation with George W. Bush or John McCain. Most House Democrats, by contrast, are cluster liberals. They come from safe seats, have a poor feel for the wider electorate and work in an institution where politics is a war of all against all.

Barack Obama ran for president as a network liberal, and entranced a Facebook nation. But in office, Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks. To get things done quickly, he governed like a cluster liberal, relying on partisan leaders.

The results were predictable: insularity, alienation and defeat. So now we are headed toward divided government. But there is a whiff of coalition-building in the air. Dick Durbin and Tom Coburn boldly embraced the bipartisan fiscal commission process. Obama opened up a comprehensive set of negotiations with Republican leaders to handle the Bush tax cuts.

The big story of the week is that Obama is returning to first principles, re-establishing himself as a network liberal. This isnít a move to the center or triangulation. Itís not the Clinton model or the Truman model or any of the other stale categories people are trying to impose on him. Itís standing at one spot in the political universe and trying to build temporarily alliances with people at other spots in the political universe.

You donít have to abandon your principles to cut a deal. You just have to acknowledge that there are other people in the world and even a president doesnít get to stamp his foot and have his way.

Cluster liberals in the House and the commentariat are angry. They have no strategy for how Obama could have better played his weak hand ó with a coming Republican majority, an expiring tax law and several Democratic senators from red states insisting on extending all the cuts. They just sense the waning of their moment and are howling in protest.

They believe nonliberals are blackmailers or hostage-takers or the concentrated repositories of human evil, so, of course, they see coalition-building as collaboration. They are also convinced that Democrats should never start a negotiation because they will always end up losing in the end. (Perhaps psychologists can explain the interesting combination: intellectual self-confidence alongside a political inferiority complex).

The fact is, Obama and the Democrats have had an excellent week. The White House negotiators did an outstanding job for their side. With little leverage, they got not only the unemployment insurance, but also an Earned Income Tax Credit provision, a college scholarship provision and other Democratic goodies. With little leverage, they got a package that could win grudging praise from big-name liberal groups like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for American Progress.

Moreover, Obama has put himself in a position to govern again. The package is popular. According to the most recent Gallup numbers, 67 percent of independents and 52 percent of Democrats support extending all the tax cuts. Higher numbers support extending the unemployment insurance. Obama is reminding independents why they liked him in the first place.

He only needs to work on two things. He needs to explain his method better than he did in his press conference. It is entirely consistent to support a policy and be willing to move off of it in exchange for a greater good or a necessary accommodation. Thatís called real life.

Then heís got to bring this networking style to the larger issues. Itís easy to cut a deal that explodes deficits. Itís harder to cut one that reduces them. But there are more networks waiting to be built: to reform the tax code; to reduce consumption and expand productivity; to reform entitlements.

Washington doesnít know how to handle coalition-building anymore; you can see consternation and confusion all around. But did anybody think changing the tone was going to be easy?

Brian Palmer
12-10-2010, 08:48 AM
I just think Obama would have done much better to extend the tax cuts only 1 year (thats all he got on the unemployment benefits extension). As it is now, the 2012 election will be about 1 issue: another tax cut extension.

The Republicans and Obama have set up another "trap" for the Democracts that will close just in time for November, 2012.


S.V. Airlie
12-10-2010, 08:48 AM
I think Obama gad a good week even with his defeat in the dem caucus yesterday. Obama came into office with a majority in the house and the senate. In a way he felt that with the majorities getting his policies advanced were going to be a cake walk.He had the momentum from his election etc. I honestly think that he felt he did not have to compromise on issues. For the first time I think he sat down with the opposing party and worked something out; am compromise if you want. That willingness to compromise may open some doors down the road.

Yes the caucus defeated the compromise but it allows for further discussion.

Our system has to stop at the "Us and you" mentality.

Milo Christensen
12-10-2010, 09:07 AM
I love some of the terms. The commentariat . . . wailing in protest. Priceless, and so true, so many of the bilge liberals were immediately classified into that group. Although I can't personally use the phrase "cluster liberals" without inserting another word in the middle.

12-10-2010, 10:01 AM
where did the terms cluster and network liberals come from?

S.V. Airlie
12-10-2010, 10:26 AM
Umm I think the record is skipping...
For two years I heard complaints from the Reps that the compromises on previous acts did not involve them and they were left out of the usually left out of any negotiations. Well the dems seem to be taking part of the play book. Tghe defeat by the dem caucus was due in part because THEY did not think that thet had been part of the negotiations in the comprimse with Obama.

Yup, the record is skipping....

I hope Obama holds to his guns.. He has a compromise. It could be worse and yes, it could be better but I think overall it is not bad.

David G
12-10-2010, 02:14 PM
When I first read of this deal... I didn't know what to think, but it seemed like a serious cave-in by Obama. Now, I'm not so sure he didn't pull off a reasonable - perhaps even good - compromise from the Dems (or, more importantly, from the nation's) standpoint. One of my congresscritters clearly does NOT agree. He led the Dems in the House on a revolt. Maybe this will scuttle the whole thing - but I doubt it. Maybe it'll just give Obama more leverage in further discussions with the Reps.

I really don't follow the day-to-day political oscillations... but lately it's pretty good soap opera. I don't always agree with David Brooks, but I do frequently find him thoughtful and incisive without being doctrinaire.

12-10-2010, 06:54 PM
Compromise is working, and it's pissing of the extreme left. :)

Which reminds me... is Norman okay? Did we figure out where he went?