Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reflections on Why Mr. Obama Needs to Adjust

Time to adjust
When the Disease Management Care Blog recently visited Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of tort reform, it couldn't help but notice that one Congressman's office wall was festooned with multiple pics of him with former Presidents Bush and Clinton. Their open-necked shirts and silly grins were quite the contrast with a single White House holiday portrait with a stiffly smiling Mr. and Mrs. Obama.

That particular photograph was hung off to the side.

Which is why the DMCB was not at all surprised by The New Yorker report about our President's remote and sterile governance style.   While we can take some comfort in his fact-driven decision making, the no-drama Obama methodology of coolly processing the underlying legal, policy and political strengths and weaknesses is quite a contrast from the messy, interpersonal, shifting, intuitive and maddening style of his two predecessors.

So it should also be little wonder that Mr. Obama's methodology can lead to remarkably legalistic decisions like trying Mr. Khalid in civil court, giving the EPA jurisdiction over CO2, signing the Dodd Frank legislation and embracing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In each case, dissent was just a factor to be considered, disagreement a matter of misinterpretation and the decision the final product of reasoned judgment.

Which brings the DMCB to the Supreme Court's rude intrusion over the constitutionality of the ACA.  The DMCB thinks that a watershed moment in this POTUS-SCOTUS narrative was when the President berated the Supremes to their faces during the 2010 State of the Union address. While there may have been some political theater involved, it seems Mr. Obama was also genuinely annoyed that his manifest logic hadn't prevailed. After all, since his decision-making is so right, the judges must have been so wrong.

Unfortunately, many of Mr. Obama's supporters have taken that attitude to a whole new style of hubris. When the ACA passed and the Tea Partiers registered their initial objections over notions of constitutional liberty, they were dismissed as either wacky radicals or dullards incapable of understanding the enlightenment of a supremely rational system. Even when conservative lawyers began to swarm in the lower federal courts, the consensus was that theirs was poorly conceived long-shot that was motivated by bad ideology.  Even when the contrary lower court opinions began to accumulate, The Obama Posse et al showed no second thoughts.

What a difference three days makes. If the SCOTUS observers' reports are any guide, the ACA opponents are within credible striking distance of overturning the mandate and gutting the entire law.

Which leads the DMCB back to Mr. Obama's holiday photograph.  As the SCOTUS imbroglio plays out, it is times like this when Presidents pause, reflect, reconsider and adjust.  This is a time when doubt, second-guessing and 'what-did-I-get-wrong' steps in.  Smart people learn from it and become better decision-makers.

While a gauge of that will not necessarily be a new informality portrayed in pictures on Capitol Hill office walls, the DMCB and other voters will be watching to see what the President and his supporters have learned from this. The DMCB will be on the look-out for a more flexible and nuanced accommodation of contrary points of view that may not fit with a scrubbed lawyerly and political calculus.

The DMCB thinks that will be the true measure of our 44th President. What's more, that'll be how many other messy, interpersonal, shifting, intuitive and maddening Americans decide to vote for or against him this fall.

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