Sullivan May Be Right About ‘Sun Tzu’ Obama

I’m not Andrew Sullivan’s biggest fan, but he does have some interesting points to make regarding Obama’s ‘long game’ strategy. Despite Obama’s apparent weakness and indecisiveness at times, I remember when Obama was in state government in Illinois, long before the nation ever heard of him, and the ‘impossible’ things he accomplished, such as mandating police videotape confessions for capital crimes (to show it wasn’t beaten or coerced out of the suspect, a bill IL law enforcement was against); increased payments to women and children receiving state benefits (which various clout-heavy health care corporations strongly opposed); and eliminating gifts to state elected officials, which were used in lieu of cash bribes. (This last was very unpopular in Springfield and directly affected Rep. Emil Jones, Obama’s general assembly mentor.)  How did he get this done?  He played a slow ‘long game’ of softening up the opposition and making them think he was weak or indecisive or just a ‘go along to get along’ kind of guy, meanwhile observing their strengths and weaknessnesses and how best to motivate them to act on his policies.  Sun Tzu would have been proud of Obama’s approach in Illinois, and I’ve seen some of this while he’s been president — such as ending DADT and extending unemployment benefits by compromising on the Bush tax cuts for a short period — a period that is about to expire and the Republicans have no bargaining chips left with which to keep them.  Short-term, GOP wins; long-term they are losing. Obama’s a pragmatist and doesn’t waste his time on bills he knows won’t pass, such as universal health care, but he tries to lay the groundwork for expanding legislation, just as happened with Medicare and Medicaid 40 years ago.  In other words, ‘Obamacare,’ once accepted by the public, will make it easier to eventually transition to universal health care in the future.  As well as being a great orator — think of that speech on race relations in the 2008 campaign that stopped even Republicans dead in their tracks with its brilliance — he’s also a very smart man and he’s been lucky in the choice of tired-GOP-talking-point opponents he faces next November, none of whom are intellectually fit to shine his shoes.

Unfortunately, some of my progressive friends are impatient with this ‘long game’ strategy and can’t appreciate when it’s working.  They’re good people, but you wouldn’t want them commanding the troops in a political campaign; they’d announce to the enemy exactly what they plan to do and how they’re going to do it and give them time to mount an opposition. As Sun Tzu wrote: “Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.”  Obama has proven himself sufficiently subtle — the Republican Party is now on the ropes, for example, and even some of the Teabaggers are worried about reelection — but I hope he isn’t too subtle and restrained for the upcoming reelection fight.

Andrew Sullivan: How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics

Jan. 16, 2012

You hear it everywhere. Democrats are disappointed in the president. Independents have soured even more. Republicans have worked themselves up into an apocalyptic fervor. And, yes, this is not exactly unusual.

A president in the last year of his first term will always get attacked mercilessly by his partisan opponents, and also, often, by the feistier members of his base. And when unemployment is at remarkably high levels, and with the national debt setting records, the criticism will—and should be—even fiercer. But this time, with this president, something different has happened. It’s not that I don’t understand the critiques of Barack Obama from the enraged right and the demoralized left. It’s that I don’t even recognize their description of Obama’s first term in any way. The attacks from both the right and the left on the man and his policies aren’t out of bounds. They’re simply—empirically—wrong.

Read the rest here.

The Case Against Liberal Despair: Michelle Goldberg on Obama

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