A president getting involved in state political races? Shocking.
Actually, the only thing shocking would be a president who didn’t get involved in important races around the country. But people have an exalted view of President Obama and believe he shouldn’t get his hands dirty messing around in local politics. Or they think he campaigned above the partisan fray on a message that his presidency would not be politics as usual.
So, the media and others have come unglued when Team Obama rather inartfully suggested that New York Governor David Paterson start packing his parachute and get ready to jump to the private sector.
In order to effect change, you need as many votes up lined up behind you as possible. And in order to ensure you have those votes, you’ve got to drop the hammer and exert political muscle.
But not nearly as unglued as the media and Democrats used to get over the idea of Karl Rove orchestrating politics from the White House.
But, the presidency is all about politics. Obama did an artful job of creating an image of someone divorced from the nitty-gritty of hardball, brass-knuckled politics. But it’s far from reality. Obama got elected, in part, because he put a team around him of combat-proven veterans who know how to, as Bill Clinton once famously said, put his opponents’ teeth on the sidewalk.
• Lloyd Grove: Rahm’s Precedent for Meddling You don’t get much more political than Rahm Emanuel. Obama’s chief of staff got started in politics doing opposition research (dirt digging), then made his bones by whipping the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee into an effective Republican-killing juggernaut. This is the guy, after all, who once sent a dead fish to a pollster who had given him bad data—along with a note saying “Your numbers stink.”
Presidents should do whatever possible and practical to encourage an environment of cooperation and bipartisanship. And they should maintain a certain level of decorum, diplomacy and decency. But, at the end of the day, presidents get elected to enact change. And in order to effect change, you need as many votes up lined up behind you as possible. And in order to ensure you have those votes, you’ve got to drop the hammer and exert political muscle.
If Team Obama doesn’t convince David Paterson to drop out of the race for governor, they are going to have to deal with Governor Rudy Guiliani for a good long while. But New York isn’t the only place the White House is weighing in; they’ve been aggressive about endorsing candidates with contested primaries in Senate races in Colorado and Pennsylvania.
With good reason: 2010 is the year parties in power have leverage over the drawing of political districts.
It was pretty clear to me early on that President Obama understood the importance of maintaining and fueling a political machine. He was presented with the option to kill the budget for the political operations that work out of the White House. It would have sent a powerful signal about ending politics as usual. But then he would have handicapped his ability to enact the kind of change he’d promised his supporters.
So, he made the practical choice and said, “Yes, we can”—but only if that meant putting his opponents’ teeth on the sidewalk.
And so Obama faces some heat for rolling the dice and gambling politically. But, that’s how he got to the big game in the first place.
As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.