Friday, November 8, 2013

Campaigning is not the same as governing

It has been said before — American elections put the emphasis on campaigning skills and not on governing skills. We tend to elect the best campaigners, not the best managers or administrators or legislators.

Barack Obama is making himself a classic example of this flaw in the system. Obama presided over an exceptional 2008 presidential campaign, and he won again in 2012, despite having a lot of odds stacked against him. But his legislative or governing achievements are slim, with the exception of the Affordable Care Act, which seems to be slipping deeper and deeper into trouble.

Obama's instinct for addressing every governmental problem is to hit the campaign trail. He is doing it now to try to beat down the complaints about the problems with the launch of health care exchanges. After the tragic mass shooting in Connecticut a year ago, Obama pushed strengthening gun laws by, once again, hitting the campaign trail. A former neighborhood organizer, Obama seems to see every problem as a call for grassroots organizing and marshaling public opinion against or in favor of a particular issue.

I've said it before, that Obama should read Robert Caro's fourth volume of his Lyndon Johnson biography, "The Passage of Power." LBJ was the consummate legislator, able to wheel and deal on the Senate floor and willing to manipulate people and issues to achieve his legislative goals. Johnson had his repellent qualities, but he got things done. He got legislation passed — the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, Medicare, etc. — when more skilled campaigners (the adored John F. Kennedy) could not.

President Obama could take a lesson from LBJ, who was vice president when Obama was born, and concentrate on the 100 voters in the Senate and the 435 voters in the House instead of appealing to the millions of voters in 50 states to pass legislation.

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