In his inaugural speech, President Obama noted that it is time to put away childish things. This call to action and maturity was taken by some as a slap at the Bush Administration and taken by others as a slap at the entire political system. Regardless of what it was, it was a call to action and a call to acting like grown-ups in a clear-headed manner. We are now beginning to see what Obama meant when he talked of putting away childish things. The first piece of evidence is how he is interacting with congressional Republicans. President Obama’s interactions with congressional Republicans appear to have been cordial and inviting, but fairly strong. His position appears to be the grown-up one, that the Republicans have every right to be heard, but little right to govern. Republican policy preferences are to be considered and, when appropriate, blended with the president’s policies and those of the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill. At the end of the day, the Republicans may not have their policy preferences written into law, but they will be heard. This may appear to be cold comfort to the Republicans who may view the inabilty to write laws favorable to them to be a continuation of the same old politics. However, that they will be listened to and courted is a change from regime past in which the majority party wrote legislation and merely invited the minority party to get with the program. More important, however, is that the president’s willingness to listen to the Republicans suggests that once legislation is passed, he is more likely to execute the law in a manner that incorporates those Republican positions that Obama believes are meritorious. That would be a sea change from past presidential practice. Ironically, President Obama may not get credit for his pre-legislation stance or his post-legislation stance. The pre-legislation stance will likely be criticized by those in his party who prefer a scorched Earth, 51%-of-the-votes-equals-100%-of-the-power stance all too often reflected in the congressional battles over the past few decades. It will also be criticized by those Republicans who view the inability to write their preferences into law as being shut out of the system, even though Democrats have won the White House and both houses of Congress. Conversely, the post-legislation stance will be criticzed by Democrats who believe that the execution of the law is within the president’s sole power and should be exercised in a manner that reflects the views of the party from which he was elected. If President Obama wants this government to work, he may need to become Schoolmaster Obama and work very hard to get his students to put away their childish things.
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