Governing from the White House

When I said Barack Obama should respond to the election by moving out of the Senate and into the White House I didn’t just mean he should focus on foreign policy more, though I did also mean that. I meant really literally he should try to remove himself from being the focal point of the legislative process and remove the legislative process from being the focal point of his presidency. When people think about partisan squabbling on the Hill, you want them to think of House Speaker John Boehner squabbling with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

When Barack Obama is asked what he thinks about issues, he should speak in terms of broad outlines and objectives. He wants clean energy. He wants long-term deficit reduction. He wants short-term jobs boosts. He wants to invest in reforming education. He wants a broad deal on immigration. He wants to “bend the curve” on health care. He wants his nominees confirmed. If you want to talk about deal-making, go call a Senator.

The point isn’t just to free up more time on the Presidential schedule. It’s also to shift the focus of the agenda. You want the press to stop asking “what will Obama do to reach out to Republicans?” He’s busy! He’s not reaching out to anyone! The question to ask is “what are congressional Republicans doing to do reach out to Obama and the thirteen Democratic Senators whose votes they need to pass anything?”

Among other things, I think this approach is more likely to actually produce bipartisan compromise. When Presidents insert themselves into legislative debates, the tendency is for the debate to become more partisan and polarized. Sometimes that’s useful, but in circumstances when Republicans have the House and Democrats have the Senate, it means it’s not a productive way to get things done.