How Obama Will Bring About Change

In last week’s column, Jonathan Alter gave some reasons why he believes Obama can bring about change:

Obama’s got a few assets in the Washington change game that have gone underappreciated. The first is that he’s a senator. Comfortable with dominating their state legislatures, governors-turned-presidents often neglect congressional relations. (FDR and Ronald Reagan were rare exceptions.) Obama was smart enough to hire former majority leader Tom Daschle’s well-regarded staffers, who would likely follow him into the White House. He’s not in John McCain’s league in working across the aisle, but he has cultivated some important relationships.

For instance, archconservative Sen. Tom Coburn routinely puts a “hold” on dozens of bills (yes, a single senator can obstruct the whole process). He put one on a bill cosponsored by Obama and GOP Sen. Richard Lugar to clean up dangerous conventional weapons scattered across the former Soviet Union. According to Lugar’s office, it was only Obama’s unlikely friendship with Coburn that persuaded the Oklahoman to lift his hold and allow the bill to become law. The two senators from opposite sides of the spectrum go out to dinner (along with their wives) and clown around in the cloakroom, with Obama teasing Coburn that he can muss his hair, but Coburn can’t muss back. Deploying this kind of charm might seem trivial, but it’s an important reason FDR and Reagan got so much through.

Another Obama advantage is that he’s showing signs of a quality ascribed to Roosevelt—”longheadedness.” Behind their enigmatic smiles, longheaded politicians look farther downfield than most. In Obama’s case, that means that the onetime community organizer is likely to apply to congressional votes the same meticulous planning he’s using to win caucus states. To that end, he has already prioritized his presidency, with ending the war, reforming health care and beginning the transition to a prosperous “green economy” as the big three changes he wants to be judged on.

All the planning in the world is worthless if a president can’t inspire and excite the American people. In researching a book on FDR, I learned that on March 4, 1933, a woman brought along four handkerchiefs to an Inaugural reception, one for each of her children, so that after shaking hands with the new president she could wipe her hand on each hankie and thereby preserve traces of her hero’s sweat for each child. That sounds like some of the delirium I’ve seen at Obama events. If it continues, he could bring a lot more change than the cynics think.

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  1. 1
    Susan says:

    Obama always claims he’s the new kid on the block…well he is washington as well he is a US senator, so all these I want, I wish, I dream stuff is all he’s got against another candidate Hillary Clinton that has been around alot longer than when Bill Clinton was president, after becoming a lawyer she didn’t go to work at the posh places , but places that helped women, children, hispanics and african americans. she fought the establishment and the status-quo,she is now a pioneer and champion of these causes. What caucasian woman do you know that would fight so hard for other races. It’s wrong to try to play down all the wonderful accomplishments for all these people she has made a difference in their lives. Obama fights for his own people , what does he do for any other races?

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    You have it backwards. Clinton has spent most of her career defending the status quo. I’ve looked at her dubious experience in several posts such as here. As opposed to your fiction, she was a corporate lawyer who backed the policies of Wal-Mart.

    She supported George Bush’s foreign policy. She opposed the ban on cluster bombs which Obama backed. Besides supporting the Iraq war, she has been a big backer of the drug war, disagreeing with Obama on policies such as needle exchange programs and retroactively reducing drug sentences.

    She’s also been a big supporter of increased power for the executive branch and an opponent of transparency in government.

    Clinton backed a law against flag burning and has pushed for censoring video games. At heart she’s still a Goldwater Girl. Voting for Clinton would be a third term for George Bush. That’s why the White House sees her as the one to carry on their legacy.

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