Hello Everyone,

It has been two months since my last commentary. The combination of the mid-term elections, the lame-duck session, and the Tucson tragedy prompt me to write again.

While the latter event is neither connected to the first two nor directly connected to politics or governance, it has caused me to reflect once more on the presidency and this president.

I have long said I have been drawn to Barack Obama because of his “intellect, temperament and worldview” – a phrase I have repeated numerous times in these pieces. Over the past couple of months, events have put these qualities on fuller display.

A Civil Temperament
In February 2007 in my first Obamagram, I wrote, “I am committed to getting [Barack Obama] nominated and elected [because he is]…deliberative and reflective, [but] not ideological.”

In a speech in Chicago in April 2007, I heard Obama pledge, “a new chapter in American leadership…not of bluster and bombast, but of quiet confidence and sober intelligence.”

That same month, Obama told David Brooks that the esteemed Reinhold Niebuhr is one of his “favorite philosophers.” When David asked what Obama had learned from Niebuhr, he replied without hesitation as he walked off the Senate floor, “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And, we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But, we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism…”

We can see how this philosophy informed and how his own intellect and temperament shaped the President’s remarks in Tucson, much of which he reportedly wrote himself, as is his wont.

…at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds…

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding…and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath…

As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together…

If this tragedy prompts reflections and debate – as it should – let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost…

And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy – it did not – but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud…

…that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country…

We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that’s entirely up to us…

I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us…should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

Those words are ample proof of the President’s intellect, temperament, and worldview – his belief in the importance of being civil in all aspects of our lives.

I have tried to be civil in writing these pieces. I know how important words are.

Civility is the President’s sweet spot. In July 2008, I wrote,

…Barack’s temperament is…cool, composed, even-tempered, poised. Everything I’ve learned about him [since 2003] – [from] dozens of his family, friends and associates – confirms the public perception of a man who has a high level of emotional intelligence. He is cool, not just stylistically, but constitutionally…

In April 2008, I wrote about the simple due diligence I had done with Obama’s pick-upbasketball- playing buddies who reported that he “isn’t a hot head” on the court either.

In the primary and general election and repeatedly during his first two years in office, many of Obama’s supporters – especially from the left – have urged him to show more emotion, even anger. He seldom, if ever, has taken that bait.

Back in December 2007, Brooks’ insights were again enlightening:

Obama is an inner-directed man in a profession filled with insecure outerdirected ones…He has a core and is able to maintain his equipoise…Obama does not ratchet up hostilities; he restrains them…His is a worldview that detests anger as a motivating force.

Intellect, temperament and worldview.

In September of 2008, in the midst of the financial meltdown, I wrote, “…voters are starting to be reminded, or learning for the first time, of some of the attributes that commend Barack for the presidency. He’s calm, coherent, and cerebral.”

As a New Yorker editorial said in October 2008,

…Obama’s transformative message is accompanied by a sense of pragmatic calm. A tropism for unity is an essential part of his character…The exhaustingly, sometimes infuriatingly, long campaign of 2008 (and 2007) has had at least one virtue: it has demonstrated that Obama’s intelligence and steady temperament are not just figments of a writer’s craft.

Parenthetically, I notice that the White House staff has also become more civil recently with the elevation of my good-natured, moderate, and talented friend Austan Goolsbee to the chairmanship of the Council of Economic Advisors and the arrival of steady-handed Bill Daley, who I know a little, and the departures of Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel.

A Bipartisan Temperament
Last October, I wrote “that there is something in me that hopes – however faintly – that the House is returned to Republican control.”

Well, it has been, and I like it.

When the Democrats controlled both houses, you will remember that not a single, solitary Republican voted for the health care (really “health insurance”) law when it was passed by the Senate in December 2009 and the House in March 2010. Zero Republicans.

By contrast, laws passed in the lame duck session thankfully elicited varying degrees of bipartisanship support:

  • Tax cut and unemployment benefit extensions: 45 Democratic and 37 Republican Senators voted affirmatively, as did 139 Democratic and 138 Republican Congressmen and women;
  • New START treaty: 13 of the 39 voting Republicans were in the affirmative; and
  • Repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”: 6 Republican Senators and 15 Republican House members voted affirmatively.

Not only are these three votes somewhat encouraging, I would submit that the more bipartisan tone of the lame duck session was also more aligned with the President’s fundamental nature. In fact, I think he has been liberated from his so-called filibuster-proof majority in both houses that seemed to stymie any chance of bipartisan cooperation.

In Obama’s famous 2004 convention speech, he said, “…there is not a liberal America and a conservative America, — there’s a United States of America…” In April of last year, on the heels of the health insurance law’s signing, Brooks described the President as a “pragmatic moderate liberal” – a characterization he repeated just last week and one I wholeheartedly embrace.

In July of 2008, some noted that Obama was “taking flak from all sides,” and I called that a good sign. That continues today (think of the tax-cut compromise) as a by-product of his pragmatism, moderation, and preference for bipartisan agreement. A small, but inevitable, price to pay.

Some good is coming out of the mid-term elections and the lame duck session. And, Tucson has reintroduced us to the essential notion of civility. I’m encouraged and I hope you are too.

Please, as always, pass it on. And, remember that previous Obamagrams are stored on http://obamagrams.com.


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