Recently, I saw a clip of Chris Matthews grumbling at the state of the Obama Presidency. Matthews was expressing frustration at a perceived lack of communication between the president and Congress, and I think he’s on to something.
Barack Obama came into office with everything going for him – a clear voter mandate, concrete plans, and a united Congress ready to promote Democratic ideals. So what happened?
First, it’s important to establish that Obama has done quite a lot right: he’s pulled back the economy from the brink of collapse, saved the American auto industry, created a healthcare plan that will help millions, and orchestrated a defense strategy that’s carefully taking us out of the Middle East without leaving a mess behind.
But at the same time, he hasn’t had the same relationship with Congress that defined the presidencies of Bill Clinton, or Ronald Reagan. These were true consensus builders who, despite the difficulties their policies faced, were effective in rallying support and building coalitions.
This may be Barack Obama’s weakness – why he may ultimately be compared to Jimmy Carter and not Franklin Roosevelt.
If the president wants to win a second term and make it one notable for progress and achievement, he needs to talk with his coworkers. He needs to communicate with them as often as he communicates with the American people, and he needs to create working relationships with the swing votes upon which so many of his policy successes will rely.
The president known by millions for his rhetorical abilities should remember that success can’t depend on speeches. Matthews says it best:
“Their idea of running a campaign is a virtual universe of sending e‑mails around to people. No, it’s not. It’s meetings with people. It’s forging alliances. It’s White House meetings and dinner parties that go on until midnight. And he should be sitting late at night now with senators and members of Congress and governors working together on how they are going to win this political fight that’s coming.”
Get your datebook out, Mr. President.