In his best-selling in-depth biography of Steve Jobs, Apple’s iconoclastic CEO, Walter Issacson notes that Job’s always spoke his mind to and about both friends and enemies. Based on the biography, I think it’s fair to state that Job’s was an ideological friend of Barack Obama. Yet, after conversations with the President, Job’s—a man who accomplished great things—is quoted as saying, “"the president is very smart. But he kept explaining to us reasons why things can't get done."
That’s what President Obama did in his recent State of the Union speech (and at virtually every campaign stop as he barnstormed important swing states afterward). He parrots the public's frustration by saying “Washington is broken.” But the President implies that somehow he is removed from the wreckage, that he is blameless for the gridlock, the bickering, and the hyper-partisan atmosphere. That, in itself, is astonishing. He is, after all, President—the most powerful person in Washington. If the town and it politics are broken, the buck must stop with him. If the atmosphere is hyperpartisan, he shares a significant part of the blame. If things don’t get done, he is the one who must accept a large part of criticism.
In a way, his comments are pathetic—'the meanie Republicans won’t let me do what I think is right for all of you,' he whines, 'and therefore, I can’t get anything accomplished.' Polls have indicated that many things that the President thinks are right, don’t sit very well with a majority of Americans. But in a way, that’s beside the point.
Politics 101 tells us that negotiation—a give and take—often outside the public eye, is how things get accomplished. You give something to your opponents and they give something to you. You both work to get to “yes.” I suspect that the critics of the President who argue that he seems unwilling to get to yes, are not lying. It’s almost as if Obama, like a Hollywood A-lister, is surrounded by sycophants who always say ‘yes’ to him. He seems unaccustomed to push-back, to folks who say ‘no.’ And when he gets pushback, he seems unwilling or unable to adapt his positions.
His job is to get things accomplished. How? By negotiating, by listening, by meeting with those who oppose you. By being dogged in your pursuit of getting to ‘yes.’ That doesn’t mean he can’t play hardball, but in the end, he will be measured not by what he says, but by what he gets done.
In reality, Washington isn’t “broken.” It’s just a bunch of venal politicians, each with his or her own agenda and ideology, trying to outmaneuver one another.
Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton (to name a few) worked in a “broken” Washington, and they got things done. They never used the toxic political atmosphere as an excuse. They never whined.
The only thing that appears to be broken is Barack Obama’s ability to lead, and more importantly, to get things done.