Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Drew Westen on Obama: "Lead!'

Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain, wrote an absolutely crackerjack breakdown of exactly where the Obama administration has fallen down in its first year, including (especially) its dwindling support among independents.

It's lengthy, and excellent, so I'll just get to the conclusion.
Obama, like so many Democrats in Congress, has fallen prey to the conventional Democratic strategic wisdom: that the way to win the center is to tack to the center.

But it doesn't work that way.

You want to win the center? Emanate strength. Emanate conviction. Lead like you know where you're going (and hopefully know what you're talking about).

People in the center will follow if you speak to their values, address their ambivalence (because by definition, on a wide range of issues, they're torn between the right and left), and act on what you believe. FDR did it. LBJ did it. Reagan did it. Even George W. Bush did it, although I wish he hadn't.

But you have to believe something.

I don't honestly know what this president believes. But I believe if he doesn't figure it out soon, start enunciating it, and start fighting for it, he's not only going to give American families hungry for security a series of half-loaves where they could have had full ones, but he's going to set back the Democratic Party and the progressive movement by decades, because the average American is coming to believe that what they're seeing right now is "liberalism," and they don't like what they see. I don't, either.

What's they're seeing is weakness, waffling, and wandering through the wilderness without an ideological compass. That's a recipe for going nowhere fast -- but getting there by November.
Bolding is mine.

So many Dems never understand this, and the fact that they don't is the Republicans' single greatest systemic advantage. The Political Brain highlights the simple fact that people don't tend to vote on issues, they tend to vote on people; they vote based on the impressions they get as to a person's beliefs and character, trusting that their legislation and governance will flow from those two fonts.

Taking a stand on issues demonstrates character to independents, and that's important, even if they don't share that stance. As Westen says, they will respect you for your beliefs, and being respected is critical among voters who aren't part of either "team". Even leaners might well break from their usual pattern, and I believe that they did last year. But they did so because they bought into the idea that Obama's high-flying rhetoric demonstrated a strength of character, purpose, and vision that has simply not been evident in his triangulating, hands-off, warmed-over-DLC style of governance.

There is far more to the article: Westen goes over the lack of a clear vision, the perceived waffling on issues, and (critically) the perception that Obama is in the tank for whatever special interests are willing to pony up the dough. The arrogance of his economic team and their policies comes in for particularly harsh criticism, as jobless Americans seethe at Larry Summers and his ilk for cheering on the illusionary "recovery" and the big banker bonuses.

But instead of quoting, I'll just suggest you click through and read it.

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