The President As Grand Moderator

Talking more like a referee than a player, Obama positions himself above the political disconnect in Washington– but will people believe him?

You’ve already heard plenty about President Obama’s town hall visits to small towns in Illinois this last week. I was fortunate to be there when the president entertained questions from a crowd of 200 at Wyffels Seed Co., in Atkinson, Ill. Let me give you my two cents for what it’s worth.

Politically, he was masterful. He knows how to command a stage and engage an audience. If you somehow hadn’t known about this country’s incredible political problems, debt crisis and humiliating credit downgrade, you would have sworn we were headed in the right direction. And you would have sworn Obama’s lack of leadership had nothing to do with those issues.

He also displayed good command of agricultural issues, touching on the threat of over-regulation, ethanol’s impact on food prices, growing China demand and alternative energy.

Strategically these town halls appear to have been designed to set Obama above the ongoing political disaster playing out in Washington. He has no achievements to run on in three years, yet, if he’s able to appear statesmanlike - as a grand referee, if you will – he may be able to convince enough folks to believe in him for another term. If there was a subtext to these heartland visits, it seems to be, “it’s not my fault.” Throughout his 15 minute speech and follow up question/answer session, the President artfully shifted blame for the debt fiasco to all of Congress – to his credit, not just Republicans or Tea partiers (in fact those words were not mentioned).

Paraphrasing Lincoln's house divided speech, Obama said, "When this country is operating on common ground, no one can stop us. But when we're divided, we have a whole lot of self-inflicted problems. It's urgent that we join together and not think about party first…but put country first."

Three years ago I wrote a blog marveling at the rise of Barack Obama as a presidential candidate from the same state as Abraham Lincoln. Obama is no Lincoln, and his chances of re-election are growing dimmer by the day unless he finds a way to build consensus, as he promised to in his campaign speeches.

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