Do you want to understand President Obama’s Governing Style?

I’ve hear frustration about President Obama ranging from right wingers who complain about his “apologizing for America” and from left wingers who are upset that he has reached out so much to the Republicans.

But many of us who backed Obama from the beginning knew that one of his traits is that he bends over backwards to see things from the other person’s side and that he *always* strives to find some common ground, if some is available.

I’ve heard this from those who worked with him in the Illinois State Senate. But you can read about this too in the following books:

David Mendell: Obama: from Promise to Power
This book covers Obama from his early days (some biographical stuff) to his announcement of his candidacy in Springfield in 2007. Here you can read about his days in the Illinois State Senate and his days at the Harvard Law Review. Check out this passage from pages 90-91:

“Obama seemed less ideologically rigid and more evenhanded than the other progressive candidates, Berenson recalled. “Barack always floated a little bit above those controversies and divisions. Barack made no bones about the fact that he was a liberal, but you didn’t get the sense that he was a partisan–that he allied himself with some ideological faction on the Review and had it in for the other ideological faction on the Review. He was a more mature and more reasonable and more open-minded person. We had the sense, and I think that it was borne out by the experience of his presidency, that he genuinely cared what the conservatives had to say and what they thought and that he would listen to their ideas with an open mind. […]

Obama, in fact, used some of his appointment power to place conservatives in key editorial positions on the Review. He asserted that each viewpoint deserved a fair hearing–a magnanimous sentiment that would produce some criticism from people in his own progressive crowd…[…] But Obama was more interested in making his publication run smoothly and convey diverse opinions than in pleasing everyone in hte liberal and black contingents. His tenure as Review president, in fact, would foreshadow his future political style: a belief in giving attention to people with views other than his own; a desire to reach across the aisle to form consensus; a tendency to disappoint people in his own crowd–blacks and progressives–by not being more strident in his demeanor or behavior.

Remember this was written just when he announced his candidacy; at the time this book came out, he was considered a long-shot to win the Democratic nomination!

To follow Obama from the announcement to the start of his Presidency, I’d recommend the book Renegade by
Richard Wolffe.
Of course, this book is excellent for coverage of the campaign (warts and all). But it also speaks of Obama’s “see if from the other side” style both in legislating and in relating to the rest of the world. For example, when he deals with the Muslim world, he draws from what he saw when he lived in Indonesia. He also knows that there is a big disconnect between what the powerful say and what the “person on the street” in these countries actually sees.

If you are interested in the dynamic between Obama and the older generation African American leaders, you might enjoy Gwen Ifill’s book Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. You’ll see why many of the old-school leaders were slow to warm up to him (some of this is covered in Renegade and in Promise to Power as well).


January 1, 2010 - Posted by | 2008 Election, Barack Obama, books, obama, politics, politics/social


  1. A good and timely post. It helps us to re-glimpse the Obama who was on display through the campaign process.

    I think Obama’s #1 problem is that he has entrusted too much of his agenda to Congressional Democrats. These are people in whom Obama’s traits described in your post are utterly missing. They are partisan, ideologically rigid, politically self-serving, and ultimately lacking in the pragatism that defines him.

    Comment by The Center Square | January 1, 2010 | Reply

    • Obama takes “separation of powers” seriously and it is up to Congress to write legislation. As far as working with the Republicans: there is a school of thought that the Republicans have become so right wing that negotiation with them is impractical; most of the negotiation is between the liberal and conservative wings of the Democratic party.

      To use an analogy: one can’t reconcile creationism with science. I think that the divide between the R and D parties is really that deep. Now if there were more Olympia Snow type moderates in the R party, we might see more progress.

      Comment by blueollie | January 1, 2010 | Reply

  2. I think you’re giving Obama too much of an excuse on “it is up to Congress to write legislation.” It is up to Congress to enact legislation, but anyone can write it. You or I can. And Obama should be giving Congress much more precise language on what he wants.

    As for reaching out to Republicans, I agree that is futile. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be using their best ideas. Why, for example, should meaningful tort reform NOT be included in the healthcare bill. Who cares if that would garner any Republican votes. It is a smart move that makes the healthcare system stronger, and it doesn’t contradict a single thing in the bills.

    I am a huge Obama fan. His list of accomplishments so far will put 2009 down as one of the most successful presidential years in history. But I do wish that the pragmatic Obama, the one I voted for and believe in, would show himself more.

    Comment by The Center Square | January 1, 2010 | Reply

    • Some think that President Obama “overlearned” from Bill Clinton’s failure in HCR; there Clinton said “pass this” and it didn’t work.

      I don’t know what the proper balance is. “Tort reform”: I haven’s seen any evidence that states that have passed such measures have reduced medical costs; I’d welcome being directed to it.

      Comment by blueollie | January 1, 2010 | Reply

  3. Here is one good link on tort reform:

    Comment by The Center Square | January 2, 2010 | Reply

  4. […] reviewed (it is very good!) I’ve been interested in reading about the President. So far, the best two books not written by Barack Obama are these: David Mendell’s book Obama: From Promise to Power which covers his political life up to his […]

    Pingback by The Promise: Alter’s book reviewed (it is very good!) « blueollie | July 3, 2010 | Reply

  5. […] Much of the story of the campaign has been covered; I’ve written about a couple of them (Renegade and Game Change […]

    Pingback by Review of The Audacity to Win by David Plouffe « blueollie | September 4, 2010 | Reply

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