Why Governing Demands Courage and Cunning


By Doug Bailey
and Les Francis
Special to Calbuzz

Reading the tea leaves of any election is tricky, especially this year.  Voters didn’t seem to embrace much enthusiastically, while they dismissed quite a lot (like government by and for the one percent, preposterously intrusive policies toward women and anti-gay bigotry).

Roughly 120 million Americans went to the polls and re-elected a moderately left-of-center president and a decidedly right-of-center House of Representatives (even though Democrats won more popular votes nationally). The fact that Democrats actually added to their Senate majority may not say much more than that the voters rejected the tone set by Republican leader Mitch McConnell — when he said that defeating Obama was his top priority — and the resulting obstructionism employed by McConnell and his Senate allies.

Now McConnell says of the election that “the American people did two things: They gave President Obama a second chance to fix the problems that even he admits he failed to solve during his first four years in office, and they preserved Republican control of the House of Representatives.”  He went on to proclaim that “they have simply given [the president] more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control.”

How’s that for a warm embrace of political civility and bi-partisan cooperation?

The president’s election-night hope that all of us, including Congress, would stop thinking of red states and blue states and think only of the United States was welcome oratory.  But oratory alone won’t be enough to get Congress to work with him for genuine progress on critical issues facing the country.

We have espoused the principle of bipartisan cooperation for some time, but we also know that it would be naïve to suggest that civility and bonhomie will be enough to break Washington’s current gridlock. All the “warm and fuzzies” in the world are no substitute for political craftsmanship, wiliness, occasional hardball toughness and perseverance.

For President Obama, that is going to mean—among other things—sometimes going around the leaders of both parties in Congress, and making appeals and cutting deals with individuals and small groups of Senators and Representatives. It will mean, on an issue-by-issue basis, a lot of transactional politics — really ugly sausage making. It will mean working to strengthen Speaker John Boehner’s hand at the expense of Eric Cantor’s. On occasion, it will mean stiff-arming Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, and not apologizing for it. It will mean a series of floating legislative coalitions, and a devotion to the adage “No permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.”

And on some of the most important issues, it will require using the bully pulpit to go over the heads of Congress directly to the people – trusting them with the full and hard truth – and calling on their help to get the message to Capitol Hill.

In short, for Barack Obama it will require a blend of confidence and humility, meeting privately and talking publicly, the skills of a negotiator and the laser-like focus of an accomplished executive.

It will take a little of LBJ’s bullying and Ronald Reagan’s charm; a dash of Harry Truman’s candor and Gerald Ford’s decency; a pinch of Ike’s commanding presence and Bill Clinton’s pragmatism; a measure of Jimmy Carter’s determination and John Kennedy’s inspiration. And in Congress we’ll need a blend of Howard Baker’s soft-spoken receptivity and Teddy Kennedy’s closed-door negotiating skills.

That seems like a lot, but it’s called leadership. We’ll know it — and follow it — when we see it.

Doug Bailey is a long-time Republican campaign strategist/manager, who later founded the political Hotline newsletter. Most recently, Bailey was a driving force behind Americans Elect, which had hoped to field a bipartisan national ticket in the 2012 election. Les Francis is a former Democratic operative (Executive Director of both the DNC and DCCC), as well as Congressional aide (to former Rep. Norman Y. Mineta of San Jose) and deputy White House Chief of Staff during the Carter Administration.

subscribe to comments RSS

There are 6 comments for this post

  1. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    You two nailed it exactly.

  2. avatar Donald from Pasadena says:

    There is an old Persian proverb that says, “Dogs bark, the caravan passes.” At this point, President Obama and the Democrats really need to let the dogs bark while they move on with the business of the country.

    The major problem with Republicans nowadays is that while they clearly desire and endeavour to rule, they just as obviously disdain to actually govern once they’ve been entrusted by the electorate with the reins of power.

    The RNC in Washington ought to take a good look at what happened to the now-marginalized GOP here in California over the past two decades or so, and best realize that a similar fate now awaits them nationally, if they don’t start taking seriously the art of governance and they continue to look upon politics as a game of “Gotcha!”

  3. avatar cbarney says:

    “For President Obama, that is going to mean…working to strengthen Speaker John Boehner’s hand at the expense of Eric Cantor’s. On occasion, it will mean stiff-arming Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, and not apologizing for it. It will mean a series of floating legislative coalitions, and a devotion to the adage “No permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.”

    this is a recipe for disaster. he has to do the opposite: work with his own party. obama’s distancing of himself from the democratic party is the weakness of his presidency. he needs to work with the party for an electoral victory to gain control of the house in 2014. anything else means more of the same. stiffarming reid and pelosi will hurt him, and the party, badly.

  4. avatar JohnF says:

    Yes and that is why the GOP does not govern well. No listening skills, plus they only care about ideology and not results. Then when the economy or foreign policy goes off the rails they just blame the opposing party. They never look at themselves or their polices and how they affect the real world. It is easier for them to be a minority party, and just throw rocks at everybody. Then they have no ownership of their actions. We need two intelligent parties, not one barely Ok and other off in a dream world of the 1950’s that never really existed.

  5. avatar dunesboy says:

    I do not agree that the American people re elected a GOP House of Repesentatives. The House remains in GOP hands due to gerrymandering more than anything else. Just look at California . When the Independent COmmission redrew boundaries this year 5 (I think) GOP reps lost their seats when put into competitve, non-GOP-scewed districts. Imagine how this would have repeated across the country if other states did not have gerrymandered distircts

    • avatar chrisfinnie says:

      You are so right. But you’re obviously more honest than Senator McConnell. I’m sorry to pay you such a backhanded compliment. But there you have it.

Please, feel free to post your own comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.