Obama: read this blog
Political consultants ask Obama to do more philosophizing
A lengthy piece in today's Politico quotes a wide range of political consultants, former high-level White House advisers, and pollsters who all reiterate the same shortcoming about President Obama:
By declining to speak clearly and often about his larger philosophy — and insisting that his actions are guided not by ideology but a results-oriented “pragmatism” — he has bred confusion and disappointment among his allies, and left his agenda and motives vulnerable to distortion by his enemies.
Obama's predicament highlights an important role for political philosophy that even we here at The Public Philosopher tend to discount: it's practical capacity to add clarity of vision to the messy business of governing.
The truth is that we would-be philosophers tend to make the same mistaken assumption that many of you – our readers – also make. We tend to assume that philosophy and moral thinking is a secret subtext to debates over public policy and current affairs. Many of our posts use words like “explore,” “unearth,” and “uncover.” We write as if the ethical debates at stake in politics are too often buried under a morass of cable news soundbites.
Sometimes that's true. There's no question that TPP frequently works to bring to the surface buried, neglected, or seemingly irrelevant philosophical questions.
But the reason those questions are important is because philosophy has an important job to do in politics (several jobs, actually). One of its roles is to cond
ense complex issues into a coherent worldview.
I don't know if the states deserve a higher reimbursement rate for Medicaid expenditures. But I do know what I think about the value of Medicaid to our society–and I'll support the position of the legislator who shares that view. If I know we embrace the same philosophy, I'm willing to trust his or her take on the day-to-day practicalities of lawmaking. But he or she has to explain that philosophy to me to show me what it means about our country, its direction, and its values.
Articulating this vision is what, according to many, Obama has largely failed to do. Just take a look at some people said in the Politico write-up.
Robert Reich (Clinton labor secretary): “What may be missing from the White House is a clear and convincing narrative into which all the various initiatives neatly fit, so that the public can make sense of everything that’s done.”
Will Marshall (head of the centrist Progressive Policy Institute): “If you’re a serial pragmatist and just go from issue to issue and say, ‘Here’s a problem we need to solve,’ then the play of values and ideas gets lost in that.”
Don Baer (Clinton White House communications director): “You have to provide the country with a narrative of where we have been and where we need to go and how to get there . . .That requires a theory of the case on the role of government — and the role of the president.”
Bob Shrum (Democratic political consultant): “I think he has to have the courage and smarts to do what Roosevelt and Reagan did, which is draw a real-life contrast: What does he stand for? What does the other side stand for?”
Time to read our blog, Mr. President.
Image used under a Creative Commons attribution license from Flickr user Beverly & Pack.