By E.J.Dionne, Washington Post, in Toronto Star, August 30, 2010
There was a revealing moment in early August when Obama told an audience at a Texas fundraiser: “We have spent the last 20 months governing. They spent the last 20 months politicking.” Referring to the impending elections, he added: “Well, we can politick for three months. They’ve forgotten I know how to politick pretty good.”
Obama’s mistake is captured by that disdainful reference to “politicking.” In a democracy, separating governing from “politicking” is impossible. “Politicking” is nothing less than the ongoing effort to persuade free citizens of the merits of a set of ideas, policies and decisions. Voters feel better about politicians who put what they are doing in a compelling context. Citizens can endure setbacks as long as they believe the overall direction of the government’s approach is right.
At little different take on the Obama derision to politicking...
It is not that he is averse to "politicking;" I believe he has a stron aversion to the kind of character assassination and refusal to debate, except by using a few "bald" and negative talking points, that merely dumb down the debate and insult the intelligence of the electorate that has been practiced by the Republicans over the last two years. Slogans about "too much government" can be and have been mouthed by the most intellectually challenged of the Republican representatives in Congress and in the Senate. Others about "take over" of GM and Chrysler and "death panels" in the Health Reform bill, and "no jobs" have resulted from the stimulus packages...all simplistic talking points that do not address the nuanced, complicated, complex and almost frightening situation about both the deficit and the national debt.
While he has been so busy, ( is has often seemed as if the government was passing and he was signing a "bill-a-day" into law) and while he has been venturing into the heartland of small towns and small factories, trying to encourage, support and raise the spirit of those suffering most profoundly, as a consequence of the disaster, both in foreign and in domestic policy, that is the George W. Bush and the Republican Party's legacy, the Republicans have grown more shrill in attacking his "person" and not so much his policies.
It is the debate about policy, about legislation, about balanced and mature and responsible governance that Mr. Obama is more than ready to engage with his opponents. He is not, and should never stoop to, lowering his ideals, his rhetoric, and his view of the 'big' picture by slugging it out with his intellectually bankrupt, and morally vaccuous oponents over character assassinations...and that is what would result from his engagememnt in the "politicking" that Mr. Dionne speaks about.
At the same time, however, the media is far more interested in character assassination, because of its capacity to sell papers, and to raise ratings, in a culture in which both information and the messengers (media) are struggling for survival. And a tour of the editorial board rooms by the President between now and November is the least the Democratic candidates, and the President's party, can expect from the President, in an all-out initiative to sell the accomplishments of the last twenty months, and not merely explain how bad it would have been under the Republicans...a non-starter in an intellectually challenged culture.