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On The Maligning Of 'Professor Obama' In Mitch McConnell's Memoir

It would be easy to dismiss as partisan hackery the new memoir by U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, but amidst the passages highlighted by Politico this week, the ones on Barack Obama ring true. Let's take a look.

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"Meetings with Obama all open the same way, McConnell writes. 'Almost without exception, President Obama begins serious policy discussions by explaining why everyone else is wrong. After he assigns straw men to your views, he enthusiastically attempts to knock them down with a theatrically earnest re-litigation of what you've missed about his brilliance.'"

To that point, here's McConnell on BookTV:

This particularly critique points to the need for a president with executive experience negotiating with folks of different views. Obama bragged of his ability as a legislator to work across the aisle, but his only experience doing so came when crafted explicitly so he could run on that claim - first as a state senator who appealed to then-majority leader Emil Jones for help putting a few bullet points on his otherwise-sparse resume, and then, ever so briefly as a United States senator putting together enough of a record to validate a presidential run.

Obama thinks he can persuade everyone to his point of view if he just keeps repeating it enough (remember how he thought if he just explained Obamacare one more time, people would get it?), but while there is room for persuasion in politics, finding common ground is something altogether different. Just look at the current governor of Illinois, whose supposed knack for negotiation in business deals simply isn't translating because he insists on trying to persuade lawmakers to his side by repeating the same rhetoric over and over. If only he would run government like a business and make a deal, instead of clinging to non-negotiable demands.

There are leadership lessons for all of us to think about here, regardless of what you think about McConnell. (I happen to think he's a putz; almost treasonous for not allowing a vote on Merrick Garland and unforgivable in his acquiescence to Donald Trump, but that doesn't mean he's not a skilled politician in his own right whom we should simply ignore.)

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I can't help but recall the long-ago words of veteran Springfield journo Rich Miller:

"Barack is a very intelligent man, but he hasn't had a lot of success here, and it could be because he places himself above everybody. He likes people to know he went to Harvard."

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Back to McConnell:

"In the heat of the 'fiscal cliff' crisis in 2012, McConnell and the other three congressional leaders were summoned to the White House to hammer out a solution before the Bush tax cuts were set to expire at the end of the year. But this Dec. 28, 2012 meeting left McConnell notably peeved.

"'Obama's condescending attempts to lecture us about why everything we were negotiating for was wrong were particularly annoying, given that we were seriously under the gun,' McConnell writes. The two hours spent in the meeting, he recalls, 'would have been more productive had I spent them napping.'"

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"McConnell's remark to National Journal in 2010 - that his single most important goal was to make Obama a 'one-term president' - has followed him ever since.

"Democrats have used the line to no end to paint McConnell as an obstructionist. But the senator argues in his memoir that his critics often forget what he said next in the same story: That he wanted Obama to triangulate so he and Republicans could work together.

"'Well, I've been taken out of context in the past, but never more relentlessly than with regard to this comment,' McConnell writes. 'Over the next few months, it seemed that every Democrat was handed the same talking point: remind people Mitch McConnell said his greatest legislative goal is to make Barack Obama a one-term president.'

"McConnell continued: 'Even Obama would exploit this comment, using it as one of the main riffs in his presidential campaign two years later. But to me, this reaction was nothing more than false outrage and political grandstanding.'"

Indeed, McConnell's statement came on the eve of the 2010 mid-terms - and he went on to discuss doing business with Obama. See Glenn Kessler's fact-check for the Washington Post.

Here, too, you see where "narrative" (really an early form of memes) can overpower both the truth and the humanity of the people in our civic life. Ideologues drive such things while accusing their opponents of doing so.

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To be fair, I'll give Obama the last word:

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on June 2, 2016


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