Obama courts independents

Barack Obama has come up with a political rehabilitation strategy that’s not bad.

It seems to assume a coming realignment in American politics. It is a realignment in which one of the parties would do better than the other at keeping its extreme base corralled while it fashions new appeal to the growing independents.

We’re likely headed for generational political change in America. It is to a culture in which the parties will exist primarily to cover the left and right margins and raise money.

Personal independence, not group association, seems to be the emerging force generally, not just in politics. This force represents disparate thinking, that being the very point of independence, of course. But social tolerance and fiscal conservatism are common political themes.

Elections will be decided by independents who will come to represent nearly half the electorate and who will favor the party that reaches out most generously and competently to the other side to produce tangible results.

This becomes tricky. You must possess the splendid dexterity to keep your partisan and philosophical base assuaged while you make solicitations of your often-bitter adversaries to try to find new political and governmental ideas that will galvanize the center.

Obama looks to be going for it. Republicans are passive, or perhaps stymied, worrying about their right flank, meaning this Tea Party thing. And they’re trying to figure out how to resist the president without seeming obstructionist, or how to oblige him occasionally in deference to centrist independence without making him look nobler than they.

So Obama actually is pursuing a kind of checkmate of Republicans in which they don’t really have any move that isn’t to his benefit.

First things first: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have been ushered off center stage so that the Democrats’ star performer, that would be Obama, can take over.

Pelosi is a noble San Francisco liberal, a niche politician in the national context, who is an able legislative tactician. But she lacks the charm and moderate image to make the connection that matters to independent voters.

Reid is a nice guy, or at least he seemed so the one time I spoke with him, and also is tactically talented. But he does not bring any evident knack for public ingratiating to this table.

Obama can ingratiate for sure. He can perform. What he brings to the table is that he received more votes for president than anyone ever.

In the span of seven days after Massachusetts, Obama TKO-ed the Republican House Caucus in a televised Q-and-A, took questions from regular folks on YouTube, charmed a town meeting in New Hampshire and engaged in a self-serving if occasionally spontaneous and mildly tense televised Q-and-A with Senate Democrats.

Second: Obama is continuing to say we must have health reform, but he is no longer saying health reform represents his historic priority. That’s because job creation is now his historic priority. What he wants is for Congress to treat the issue as health “insurance” reform, not health “care” reform, and break it into incremental pieces to be taken up whenever they can be assured of passage.

Third: Obama wants to make nice with Republicans so that they might feel an obligation to agree with him from time to time, or, failing that, he wants independents to see more clearly which side is doing the obstructing.

When Obama told that town hall meeting about seven Republicans voting against a budget reduction commission they had co-sponsored, and doing so only because he offered his agreement — well, in the chess analogy previously invoked, that little vignette amounted to Obama’s using the Democratic rook to plunge deep across the board and capture a Republican bishop.

And for Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to put a hold on all judicial nominations until he can extort some pork for his state, as happened Thursday — that’s a case of the GOP losing its other bishop to its own horrid misplay.

John Brummett is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. His e-mail address is jbrummett@arkansasnews.com; his telephone number is (501) 374-0699.

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