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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Two New Looks At Obama

There are a couple of new “looks” at president-elect Barack Obama out today that deserve notice. One, by Mike Tomasky in The Guardian, coins an interesting new phrase for Obama’s approach to the stimulus package: “indirect direction:”

He has shown time and again that unique skill of being able to guide people toward his desired conclusion with what I will call indirect direction. When the issue was his race, his name, his religion, his inexperience or what have you, he rarely (except in the big “race speech”) tried to assuage voters by addressing these points directly. After the financial crisis hit in mid-September, for example, he rarely said, “Yes, I can handle this, and here’s why.” He laid out a few proposals, let his superior debate performances speak for themselves – and let the public watch John McCain flail. The voters reached his desired conclusion (that he was better prepared to handle the crisis) without his having to write it across the sky in letters.

In this take, Obama is not only okay about, but is actively relying on criticism of his stimulus proposal, particularly from progressives, to shape it in the direction he ultimately favors.
Meanwhile, over at New York magazine, John Heilemann takes everything ever said about Obama’s unique political appeal and ramps it up many notches in a piece that suggests he’s the first “Independent” president. The nugget of hard news in Heilemann’s analysis is his report that Obama’s decided to turn his political network over to the DNC:

Now, having dragged electioneering kicking and screaming into the new century, Obama and his people are grappling with how to harness their network to help Obama govern. Virtually since Election Day, they have been debating the putative shape of what they like to call Obama for America 2.0, with much of the focus on a central choice: Should the network be folded into the DNC or housed within an independent entity? The risk for Obama in pursuing the former path was clear: a possible turnoff for the millions of loyalists who bought into the Obama brand but happened not to be Democrats. On the other hand, though an outside group would have given Obama a power base separate from the DNC, he would also have been less able to exercise control over its agenda.
With the selection last week of Obama’s friend, Virginia governor Tim Kaine, to chair the party, the question has more or less been answered: Much of the campaign’s grassroots operation, I’m told, will reside at the DNC. What Obama is wagering is that, with some clever branding (read camouflage), the fealty of his non-Democratic followers to him personally will overcome whatever nausea they experience owing to the partisan affiliation. And though the move has been interpreted as a sign of Obama’s empowering the DNC by having it absorb the network, I suspect that the opposite may happen. The Obama network—with its greater resources and zeal—may effectively absorb the party.

We’ll see if Heilemann’s right about that before long, but it’s fascinating that there remain so many very different takes about Barack Obama’s basic approach to politics after so very much scrutiny.

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