Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Symphony Of Process

"Trust yourself, and love the process."
-B. Bollinger, March 7, 1998

Yesterday, after it was clear that the stimulus would pass the Senate, and I was driving to an evening event, I grinned. Obama had done it. And he'd done it his way. It was masterful, a masterpiece. He was the greatest conductor of one of the greatest symphony orchestras of the world, and he had just completed the second movement with perfection. Even though it had looked a lot more like herding cats.

Sure, I've read the pundits and listened to the critics, from every side it appears, who say Obama's lost his mojo; or that he needs to be firmer; or (this, from Mitt Romney) that he's off to a "rocky start." Sure there were times that I was worried about how this stimulus would pass and whether it would still have teeth at the end (don't know if I'm done with that worry). And yes, sure, there was nothing perfect about the process over the last couple of weeks.

But it was process.

And for as much as it looked like old process, there was something new. There was this man in the middle who did what he thought was right, who kept his eye on the prize in the midst of all the hornswoggling (from the right and from the left), who spoke decisively about what was at stake, and who offered to consider whatever options there were to get the wheels of this chariot unstuck from the mud.

This same man allowed the process to unfold. Think about what Obama did. First, he let the House and Senate Democrats add things. Then he let the Republicans be upset. He listened to what bothered them. Then, when compromise finally seemed imminent by cutting back the bill, he let the Democrats be upset. He gave moral support to the handful of Senators (both D and R) who became front and center because they stepped up and said, let's modify this thing. He let the most obstinate Republicans show their true, marginalized colors. In essence, he let the whole Greek tragedy play itself out. And he did it all while continuing to respect and honor his own core principles.

If you think I'm wrong, if you think he didn't choose to allow the process (and instead just let it happen to him), then think for a minute about what he did in the middle of this past week. For he did the unimaginable, under old-style political rules. Midweek, he nominated a Republican senator to the Commerce Secretary position without requiring some tit-for-tat before he did it, even acquiescing to the condition that the Senator's replacement be a Republican. My gosh, the blogosphere lit up with consternation and derision over such a flat-footed political move. But what if he did that because it was the right thing to do? Not out of weakness or naivite, but out of a desire to play fair, to bring a new type of politics to the City on a Hill - to show, by example, what that looks like?

This is what I told people when I campaigned for him, especially last spring when his competition was Hillary Clinton and - truth be told - there was very little difference in their proposed policies. It is his process, I would say. We are desperate in this country for a new process in Washington. Obama has a vision for how to create that. Can he do it? I would ask, and then I would answer my own question: I think so. I hope so. And I think he's the only one who can. And I don't think we can afford to not let him try.

Last night, as I was driving my car, it dawned on me: he is proving me right. And what he did - it worked, a little bit. (just a little)

Okay, now - here's the brilliant part of what he's doing. Because for every action, there can be new consequence. And so, when he stuck to the issues and played the game of politics with honor, he opened the door and gave a handful of moderates permission to do the same. And I think they did. At least a little.

Yes, I do get that this is politics. And that he is a masterful politician (politician being the operative word). But maybe - just maybe - he is masterful because the name of his game is authenticity, and doing right by the country, and trying to focus on what unites us over what divides us. Maybe this is going to work.

Getting ready for the third movement......

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