Thursday, February 12, 2009

Obama Misreads His Mandate

Reagan didn't assume his landslide was a license for whatever he wanted.

from The Wall Street Journal
February 12, 2009

President Barack Obama's honeymoon period seems to have ended quickly. That's because Mr. Obama doesn't grasp the essentials of presidential leadership. Rather than making a compelling case for his economic policies, he has resorted to curt rebuffs, such as telling House Republican whip Eric Cantor, "I won." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the same thing the same day: "We won the election; we wrote the [stimulus] bill." This is the trope of a party that has lost its ability to make an argument.

Mr. Obama and his team would be well advised to put aside the imperious FDR model and study Ronald Reagan's first 200 days in office. The contrast is instructive.

Upon entering office in 1981, Reagan's team produced a 50-page, detailed blueprint for their first six months in office. The passage of their economic policy was the central objective. This report, called the Initial Actions Project (IAP), has received little attention from historians or journalists (with the notable exception of Lou Cannon). It would be highly useful for Mr. Obama to review it.

One of the main themes that emerges from the IAP report is that Reagan and his team didn't assume that a landslide victory meant they had a mandate to do whatever they wanted. To the contrary, the report's authors, Richard Wirthlin and David Gergen, wrote: "The election was not a bestowal of political power, but a stewardship opportunity for us to reconsider and restructure the political agenda for the next two decades. The public has sanctioned the search for a new public philosophy to govern America."

Reagan never attempted to stifle debate by saying "I won." The IAP noted that President Jimmy Carter "failed to realize that leadership means more than 'laying it all out;' it also means keeping at it." Like Mr. Carter, Mr. Obama seems peeved that Washington won't roll over for him.
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