The Presider
By: Mark W Adams

I think Sully has it exactly right in describing the role President Obama sees for himself in the Constitutional scheme is "Presider," not decider/dictator/party leader or omniscient messiah, but president -- one who presides.  Both the word preside and president, naturally, come from the same Latin root: [praesident-, from present participle of praesidre, to preside; see preside.]

As the media obsesses on artificial measures of Obama's success hinging on how he does in his first 100 days, measuring each trend in the daily news cycles as a tremendous setback or stunning victory, neither they nor Congress seems to appreciate the truly revolutionary, uhm ... change ... the President has brought to the dynamic of governing already. 

He hasn't been there a month yet, and they're working on a spending bill ten times larger than the initial appropriation for the Iraq War.  (Remember that $87 Billion Senator Kerry voted for before he voted against it.  This one will be around $870 Billion.)  Indeed, any of the five news anchors who interviews the President this week would acknowledge that Obama's handling of the economy will be a large part of his legacy decades from now, which is dependent to an enormous degree on the Stimulus Bill -- yet they emphasized the withdrawal of Tom Daschle's nomination in their interview questions; a blip in the grand scheme.

Everyone in the Capitol is going to get a chance to take their shot, and they're taking them.  That's the way it's supposed to work.  Critiques that Obama lost control of the message, that his bipartisan outreach has failed or even (dare I suggest) that the GOP is not so much being obstructionist rather than grounding their dissent on valid concerns that the Democrats are trying to ram this stimulus bill though as a liberal wish-list is at best premature.

Mind you, many of the GOP positions are indeed ludicrous
“It’s a rare day when the President goes to the Capitol to meet only
with members of the other party,” noted CBS correspondent Chip Reid.
Reid’s story included plenty of doubting Republicans—Minority Leader
John Boehner said the bill was doomed by “spending pushed by liberal
.” But the story also conveyed a sense that the White House
outreach might pay dividends down the road.

As the President noted you cannot be upset because the recovery bill spends too much ... because "that's the point," to spend a lot and prime the economic pump.  As Presider, the President is correctly moving the debate back to productive (and sane) parameters.

In a world of horse-traders we have elected a negotiator who is more focused on results than "winning."  In then final analysis, at the risk of projecting too far into the future, Obama will be judged by the accomplishments of his government than whether his championed agenda wins the day.  Constructing a deal that everyone can live with, and over which no one necessarily can claim total victory, is the goal of a "presider."  The deal itself, authority for a massive amount of domestic spending, is what the President wants.  And that's what he will eventually get in this process that is really only half-way done.  Conference Committee markup and final approval by both Houses loom after we get a Senate bill.

If you have any experience with mediation, you'll quickly recognize what is going on.  Obama has taken sides to be sure, but he's not so much "negotiating" in the traditional horse-trading sense as he is "mediating" from inside.

I would often adopt a conciliatory style as divorce counsel with a goal towards avoiding expensive litigation (costly both emotionally and in dollars) in favor of the much less expensive push towards an agreement that no one would walk away claiming they had "won" their divorce case.  Realistically you can't win a divorce.  You lost your hopes and dreams for your now destroyed family long before you ever showed up at an attorney's office.

I found that by starting with a reasonable offer, one that did not overreach, would either quickly result in a separation agreement (when I had experience family lawyers on the other side) or break down to attempts at horse trading that backfired (with noobies that didn't specialize in domestic relations).  Once the more naive opposing counsels would try and up the ante, they weren't met with the expected counteroffer, but a more hardened position and withdrawal of some of my more generous giveaways.  As they got less and less from me, the pressure to cut their losses brought the folks to the table. 

The only times this didn't work was when the other lawyer was more interested in milking a cash cow than any good faith settlement.  Those cases that went to trial invariably resulted in a ruling nearly identical to my initial offer -- and that counts as a win to me.

I've no doubt that Obama is mediating for a result rather than fighting for a "win."  That smacks the sensibilities on many a progressive, myself included.  But that's the POTUS we've got, and he's adopted a pretty effective way of moving the agenda as far as I can tell.  Maybe that's the best we can hope for, or maybe next time we'll work even harder for a fighter in the Howard Dean/John Edwards/Dennis Kucinich mold of crusader. 

Then again, it's still entirely possible that this Hope/Change guy knows just what he's doing, because the ol ways of doing things haven't worked all that well.