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Never-Altered Core Position

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Obama: Making Nice With Others, Including Republicans
From his early leadership roles at Harvard through his short Senate career, Obama has always believed in pragmatic politics based on bipartisanship. At the Harvard Law Review, he was elevated to the presidency with the support of the publication’s conservative faction, whose positions he was open to hearing out. In the Senate, Obama has drawn heat from the more ideologically fervent wing of the Democratic Party for his reluctance to engage in the type of confrontational, combative politics he felt were necessary to achieve the party’s progressive goals. I believe any attempt by Democrats to pursue a more sharply partisan and ideological strategy misapprehends the moment we’re in, Obama writes in The Audacity of Hope. What Obama understands, writes John K. Wilson in Barack Obama: This Improbable Quest, is that success in pursuing progressive policies comes from uniting the country behind these ideas.

Except the country is now more divided than ever, and Obama's attempts at bipartisan governing have largely fallen on the deaf ears of a Republican leadership keen on evicting him from the White House (see: Worst Enemy, Mitch McConnell). While the Republicans have certainly been hurt by coming off as too stubborn, Obama has been painted with an ugly brush by many liberals and former supporters as too compromising. That, and growing disillusionment over unmet campaign promises, have led to a Democratic base that’s simply not as fired up as the other side. But even as President Obama is finally starting to take off the gloves, laying the blame on Congress and going negative against presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, those closest to him still hold to the notion of "work with me" Obama. "There are Democrats in this room who I think would argue that the president was too eager to try and find a path forward," David Axelrod, Obama's closest adviser, told an audience at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics a few months ago — that he "was too eager to try to bring people together in the face of the evidence that the other side didn’t want to do that. I don’t regret his making the effort because I think people elected him to get things done. They didn’t elect him to wage a partisan war."

Romney: The Power of the Strategic Audit
There is such a thing as "sex appeal" in politics. Bill Clinton, for instance, is near-unanimously believed to have been blessed with dangerous amounts of the stuff. As for Romney, he's not so much with the sexy, unless you consider technocratic policy analysis a turn-on. Romney's preferred policy mode is what he's termed the "strategic audit," which he learned while at Bain. My ten years in consulting and my sixteen years in venture capital and private equity taught me that there are answers in numbers gold in numbers," he wrote in his Salt Lake City Olympics retrospective, Turnaround. "Pile the budgets on my desk and let me wallow." It's a tool he employed after taking over the scandal-ridden 2002 Winter Olympics and when he was newly installed as Massachusetts' 70th governor. "It wasn't so much that he was trying to run government as a business," one well-known Republican strategist told us, "but it was how to take best practices from business and see if there was a role in government for best practices, but willing to take some chances in pushing those as far as he could." Romney's already made clear that his MO won't change if he moves into the White House. Answering a question from a CNN reporter in 2007 about his first step as president, Romney replied: I will do a complete assessment of where we are, where the problems are, what challenges we face. Every dimension of government I would take apart look at how effective they are.


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