Thursday, September 24, 2009

Change – Continued

This week’s stick to wave at President Obama is that he’s too oriented to policy. That seems like an odd criticism after eight years of wondering what our policy is (besides that democracy is good). But emphasis on policy fits right in with what I think President Obama is doing.

It’s also a slot that the commentariat can drop him into.
Both his ambition and his unique style of issue management show that Obama is emphatically a "policy approach" president. For him, governing means not just addressing discrete challenges as they arise, but formulating comprehensive policies aimed at giving large social ¬systems — and indeed society itself — more rational and coherent forms and functions. In this view, the long-term, systemic problems of health care, education, and the environment cannot be solved in small pieces. They must be taken on in whole, lest the unattended elements react against and undo the carefully orchestrated policy measures.
Now, Obama hasn’t said any of this. William Schambra did, in National Affairs. David Broder likes this.

Making the sort of argument that gets published in places like National Affairs, Schambra casts all of Obama’s actions as stemming from this policy approach. I think Obama is more practical than that. He’s got a lot of messes to deal with and a bent if not broken political discourse. How does anyone get anything done?

That’s not to say that he doesn’t have big ideas. They’re what got him elected. So, presumably, he should be trying to execute them.

If you’re going to use an inherently messy management strategy, you need to be clear about what your goals are and what you’re willing to do to get to them.. And you can’t have one team doing something that conflicts with what another team is doing. So you need to think big. My accelerated cleanup team got crosswise with the sampling team because they wanted them to do their sampling, now. The sampling team had a long schedule for sampling already. That was why they almost came to blows.

Policy is a way to look at what needs to be done and to put it together to minimize the conflicts. It’s not an end in itself, which seems to be Schambra’s objection, along with a bunch of pseudo-biography that I haven’t bothered with in my analysis. I’m just looking at what Obama is doing. Broder’s objection seems to be that the process mucks up clear and comprehensive legislation.

That’s all the more reason that someone has to be clear about goals and means, and the President is a pretty good candidate for that responsibility. I suspect a former senator is quite aware of just how fragmented legislation can become. So he gave a speech on health care reform to remind the legislators and the public where he wanted to go with it. So he’s working various aspects of the nuclear weapons program this week.

And, oh yeah, Schambra doesn’t like “czars.” And Joe Klein has an interesting question for him.

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