Conciliatory Politics Easier Said Than Done

After a 55-minute news conference some 60 days into his term, it is possible to get an impression of Barack Obama's design for governing.

It was perhaps best summed up by the president himself when he explained his continued search for an accord between Israel and the Palestinians. He described himself as a "big believer" in the "philosophy of persistence."

The president tends to seek conflict resolution rather than drama. He has been compared to Franklin D. Roosevelt, confronted with an economic crisis. But Roosevelt closed the banks to avoid a run on them. Obama, on the other hand, joined in on a rescue effort for the ailing financial institutions. FDR enlisted 8.5 million of the unemployed into a federal workforce. The incumbent sponsors a complicated stimulus, or recovery package, intended to work through the states and localities.

Faced with Democratic objections to elements in his 10-year budget, he invites suggestions for alternatives. And he doesn't appear to be perturbed when House Republican John Boehner calls his budget "the most irresponsible piece of legislation" he has seen.

There is a sense that Obama is employing his skills as a community organizer, bent on conflict resolution, seeking the common ground. Tuesday night he said, "When each of us looks beyond our own short-term interest to the wider set of obligations we have toward each other, that's when we succeed."

Whether Obama's search for consensus will succeed is unclear. He managed to get a stimulus bill from Congress. His expansive 10-year budget is having a harder time despite his open invitation to critics to suggest alternatives. And, faced with a nationwide uproar over the AIG executive bonuses, the president had to abandon sweetness and light and call for sweeping powers to seize control of troubled financial institutions.

Whether his philosophy of persistence will avail his search for common ground remains to be seen, but it looks as though it may be sorely tested.



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