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Obama Embracing the Bully Pulpit?


I am agnostic on the Bully Pulpit debate we frequently have on the blog. I think both Scott and those who disagree with him make good points. So I don’t link to this Peter Baker piece in the Times how Obama’s governing style has changed with any agenda except that I think it’s an interesting data point in this debate.

How has Mr. Obama applied the lessons he learned? One day last spring, aides told him interest rates on federal student loans would double on July 1 unless Congress acted. Early on in his presidency, Mr. Obama might have invited lawmakers to the White House.

Instead, he headed to Air Force One and flew to college campuses in North Carolina and Colorado to castigate Congress for not heading off the rate hike. There was never any debate about the strategy; no one, even Mr. Obama, thought about talking with Republicans.

“Our view on student loans was they wouldn’t do it without really putting their backs against the wall,” said David Plouffe, the president’s senior adviser. “He realized this was a simple thing, it was clear, it was something we could motivate people on.”

Republicans angrily accused the president of bad faith. “He was making a political argument,” said Representative John Kline of Minnesota, chairman of the education committee. “I never saw any engagement from the White House about what really to do about it.”

Maybe so, but Obama aides crowed that it worked because Republicans instantly came out against the rate increase, too. Republicans said they saw it the other way, arguing that they defused the Obama attack by reacting quickly. Either way, it was a sign of how much the president had changed.


The breakdown of last year’s grand bargain talks proved a turning point. “That was a searing experience,” Mr. Plouffe recalled. The lesson: Forget negotiations and use the bully pulpit. Policy is not about applying reason; it’s about applying power.

“You’re never going to convince them by sitting around the table and talk about what’s good for the country,” said John D. Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition and still advises him occasionally. “You had to demonstrate that there’s political pain if you don’t produce an acceptable outcome.”


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