“He’ll come off as the adult in the room once this mess is resolved”

Hey, that’s not me saying. 🙂 It’s James Warren and this is a must-read.


As President Obama is pilloried by the left, including by bloggers and editorial writers, for supposedly selling them out during debt ceiling negotiations, a reality check is desperately needed.

Get over it, guys and gals, and remember whom you’re fuming over: a deal-making community organizer.

Recognize this man? In a showdown with ideological enemies, he fashioned compromises which made some Democratic allies apoplectic. Republicans weren’t happy, either, with what he wrought but grudgingly realized there were few alternatives.
Throughout he exhibited a preternatural calm, always seeking some common ground among disparate interests as if compromise was a goal in and of itself, not any diminution of principle as some Democrats thought.

Yes, that’s our president, the man at the center of the improbable Debt Debate of 2011. But it was also State Senator Barack Obama a decade ago. The equally rancorous issue back then was the death penalty and the setting was the Illinois legislature. Not much about him has changed.

“His ideological inclinations are liberal but, as far as being a politician, he’s about getting things done. He was always pragmatic and about getting things done,” said Peter Baroni, a Republican attorney-law professor-lobbyist in Chicago who had a bird’s eye view of Obama while serving as legal counsel to Republicans in the Illinois Senate and to its Judiciary Committee.

The death penalty was a big and tough matter in Illinois, especially amid mountainous evidence of men sitting on Death Row for crimes they did not commit. It was also a typical example of the Obama modus operandi during a period in which Illinois had at times the same sort of divided government he now faces on Capitol Hill.

Obama shepherded key proposed changes in the state’s criminal law, including the sensitive matter of taping interrogations of homicide suspects, all the while having cozy late-night poker games with legislative buddies, including conservative Republicans. He wanted to pass a bill and, to do so, couldn’t alienate too many Republicans and their law enforcement allies. Prosecutors and cops were dubious, if not downright opposed initially, to much of what he sought, notably the taping of interrogations to cut down on forced confessions and even alleged outright brutality by cops.

His ideological allies at the American Civil Liberties Union wanted the videotaping of all homicide interrogations of suspects and a blanket exclusionary rule. That meant that any evidence obtained from an interview that wasn’t videotaped would be excluded. Prosecutors and cops said no.

After many dozens of meetings in which “the guy never broke a sweat,” said Baroni, the end result was agreement to record interrogations, either by video or audio means. But the final deal had a litany of exceptions, including one allowing admission of a statement by a homicide suspect that wasn’t recorded if it was voluntarily given. Those exceptions were the counterpart of today’s proposed spending cuts driving some Democrats batty.

His M.O. was very much the same when it came to an important racial profiling bill he successfully steered, too. It required police to note the race of every driver they stop. They weren’t happy but Obama got it through and, wouldn’t you know, the percentage of African-Americans who are stopped has declined.

For sure, as now, he had a clear left-leaning ideology, at least in theory. But he was more committed to doing deals. Declaring his philosophical druthers did not deter him from taking what he could get, much in the fashion of the centrist Democratic impulses personified by Chicago political icons such as former longtime mayor Richard M. Daley and the late congressional power, former U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, a legendary chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Many Obama allies thought he’d sold them out on the death penalty. In retrospect, he had not. Perhaps more than any participant, he cold-bloodedly believed that his interrogation law would alter police behavior, while also protecting them from unfair charges of coercion in extracting confessions. Many participants did not see that long-term result as he did. All these years later, he’s been proven correct. You don’t hear grousing about it these days. It’s worked.

Of course, he wasn’t getting the microscopic attention he is as president. His issues didn’t even attract much interest in Illinois and he was desperately grateful for whatever notice he received — or even a returned phone call from a reporter.

There weren’t reporters and columnists chiding him for any air of condescension, as the New York Times’ David Brooks and others have done during his dueling with House Speaker John Boehner. Sitting in the Other America, out in the Heartland, I can’t point to one conversation of late where such an image of scold has been mentioned.

Perhaps the Beltway media sharpies are smarter than the rest of us. For now, I’ll rely on unscientific, anecdotal evidence to conclude that he’ll come off as the adult in the room once this mess is resolved.

And, as you watch him, be reminded of his informative pre-law school days as a community organizer in Chicago. Recall how they inspired both Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin to openly mock the term “community organizer” at the 2008 Republican National Convention, with the former New York mayor unable to contain derisive giggling as he openly wondered what the term stood for.

Well, it stands for giving power to the powerless. But, for Obama, it also meant a strategic set of notions about finding mutual agreement among people with the most divergent of motivations, according to Obama mentors whom I know from back then and David Maraniss, the journalist-author now working on an Obama biography.

Then, as now, he was also about seeking resolutions, not just bashing the rich. It was intellectual empiricism and street-wise practicality all at play. It was about doing a deal and moving on.

42 thoughts on ““He’ll come off as the adult in the room once this mess is resolved”

  1. Do you think we can get a deal done before that deadline? I remain hopeful, of course, but my main concern is that we don’t default.

  2. I doubt the president and Democrats will allow the country to default. They will work hard to come up with something. What? I don’t know. But I believe that we won’t.

  3. My concern is that the only deal that he’ll be able to sign to avoid default is a short term deal, one which he said he won’t do. I think he might be trapped between a rock and hard place, just as Boehner is. The thugs on the other side simply would rather see the country default than give one iota to this kind, gracious, brilliant President that we have.

  4. —eerr one more try—

    that would be without a shadow of a doubt. OK, I am signing off for a while. Can’t think straight today.

  5. Let me carry this one over from the previous thread – this is from today’s Wall Street Journal:


    But what none of these critics have is an alternative strategy for achieving anything nearly as fiscally or politically beneficial as Mr. Boehner’s plan. The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against . . . Barack Obama. The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.

    This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into GOP Senate nominees. The reality is that the debt limit will be raised one way or another, and the only issue now is with how much fiscal reform and what political fallout.

    The rest of the article is the standard “Obama will screw our nice profits on Wall Street” crap – but then, nobody expected anything else … no ?

  6. Thank you for that fresh reminder. POTUS always talks about the Northstar which guides most of the things he does for his country. God bless him.

  7. By Labor Day we will have forgotten what all this fuss was about. For the PL bashing the Prez is the only thi.g they ever do. They think throwing a tantrum at the Walmart in front of your father gets you what you want. They deserve a time out.

    The lesson here is that emotional and histrionic types will never understand this President, will never give him a break and will always assume he shares their impure motives.

  8. You know the way the President and his legal team just don’t ever understand the law, like DADT and DOMA and the rest. Looks like he can tuck another victory under his belt with this one:

    “The federal judge who originally held up federal funding of human embryonic-stem-cell research reversed himself on Wednesday and ruled in favor of the Obama administration”….more


  9. Jim Warren is exactly the right one to write this article. He has been fascinated with the mythic Barack Obama for years. Today SmartyPants has 3 pieces that I hope everyone will read. She, P.M & Ezra nail whats going on right now. No matter how this ends President Obama will walk out of the room with the very most he could get. I rest all of my hope on that fact.

  10. Loved the article and posted it on my Facebook page. This is exactly who I think Obama is and I can’t understand why others don’t see it. He is the most phlegmatic and pragmatic President this country has ever seen.

  11. Don’t doubt him please. He has already consulted with every possible person to help guide him on this challenge, just as he has done before. By now he knows what will happen and when and what road he will take no matter how stupid the republicans get.

  12. This article is spot on. PBO is the same person he always was and he does get things done. This is why we voted for him, because he is not trapped by ideology, but rather sincerely wants to do what is best for the country, and accomplishes that by being a pragmatist.

  13. An excellent analysis of how President Obama operates and a good explanation of why I am a supporter. The only politics that can “stand on principle” and still accomplish something is the politics of a monolithic system, Democracy is messy and inefficient, especially one in which so many of its citizens are uninformed and paranoid, but I prefer it to its alternatives. Most of our efforts politically should be put into educating our citizenry that they DO have the power and that they need to take the effort to get the actual facts to use it well.

  14. Was looking for a particular quote, didn’t find it but found two others that both reassure me and speak to the gifts of our President. If I may……

    “Nothing baffles the schemes of evil people so much as the calm composure of great souls.” Gabriel Riqueti Mirabeau

    “Power is so characteristically calm, that calmness in itself has the aspect of strength.”
    Edward G. Bulwer-Lyttonth

    I am trying to keep from setting my hair on fire……I don’t think I am alone. Despite my own excitability I know as Warren’s article portrays, President Obama will lead us to the best results, all things considered. I appreciate more and more, with everyday this drama heightens, his smart, steady and calm leadership.

  15. Oh Sue, please don’t set your hair on fire! LOL
    Our President will get us through this.

  16. Great article, BWD, and so interesting to see that the way he is operating now is, on an immeasurably larger scale and stage, exactly how he operated in the Illinois Senate — get as much as you possibly can get done, along with the modest compromises that are required to get it done (HCR, stimulus, FRR, DADT, tax deal, budget deal).

  17. Here other media contacts for those of you who tweet.

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  18. Oh I certainly don’t doubt him. I’m just more concerned if ANYTHING can pass with a GOP House of Horrors.

    Not that I’ll get worked up over it, but I’m prepping myself for the inevitable “outrage” at whatever deal may be struck and the calls to primary him, blah, blah blah

  19. It takes an exceptional person to do this:

    Well, it stands for giving power to the powerless. But, for Obama, it also meant a strategic set of notions about finding mutual agreement among people with the most divergent of motivations, according to Obama mentors whom I know from back then and David Maraniss, the journalist-author now working on an Obama biography.

    Of course I’ve always known he was exceptional- since that first national speech at the dem convention in 2004.. and his books cemented that for me. He is a visionary with practical perspectives. He is a doer.

  20. Heck i live in the state and voted for him . did’nt know he did all of this. This is a nother thing he has helped in the AA communinty i can throw at the pl. thank you for the info

  21. Breaking news. Robert Muellar has just been confirmed to serve an extended term of 2 years as our Director of the FBI. Vote was 100-0. Done deal. The President will be notified as per procedure of the Senate. Leader Reid will be speaking at 6:30 PMET. Love you all back also, HZ

  22. From Andrew Sullivan:
    Remember Obamas core political skill: goading his enemies to self-destruct…and his constant ability to look completely on the ropes and pull something off.

    Sullivan was commenting that the current Boned plan may actually carry more of the Presidents goals than anyone thought possible.

  23. After trying for an hour, I just left this message with WH comment person: I am praying for you often, Mr. president; I am behind you all the way;use the 14th if you need to.

  24. Interesting article.
    Tnmtngirl, I so agree! Although I can’t remember if I said so in the message; I called a lot of people today about that.

  25. Thanks,this list is wonderful. Faith with out work is dead, We have the faith now let’s get to work.

  26. Thanks Sue for these quotes. So true of the leadership that we are seeing in our President. Love you back also,HZ

  27. Jim Warren has been observing Obama from his first political days. He was an editor at the Chgo Trib which watched/reported on his every move, plus every detail of his background, sent reporters everywhere he ever lived, talked to everyone he ever knew. Had many interviews with Obama who impressed and won over this traditionally conservative paper, endorsing Obama for President, the first time in forever that they had ever endorsed the Democrat.

  28. I’m so glad my friend (who I told about this blog) sent this to me – for some reason I haven’t been getting emails from this blog lately – I thought BWD had either gone on vacation or just had given up – I’m so glad that isn’t the case!!

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