Acting up: When Democrats go AWOL on their Leader in the bid to stop Republicans’ Aggression

In politics, a leader is better feared than loved. Democrats challenged the President’s choice of using hard power to move compliance on his negotiated arrangement with the Republicans. Incidentally, the Democrats are fighting back. Democratic lawmakers were all on the talk show circuits this weekend, CBS face the nation, ABC this week and others, trying to place their position in proper context with respect to the extension of Bush’s tax cut and the difficulty of accepting that the President’s negotiated arrangement is the best deal out there for Americans. A few Democratic lawmakers insist they would be making some significant changes, if ever the bill is brought before congress. Late Friday, a group of Democrats had attempted to railroad the arrangement or bill with the Republican from coming to the floor for consideration. While Republicans were busy supporting their negotiations with the President and the President seeking the support and receiving the blessing of probably the most successful Democratic President in the 90’s, Bill Clinton, it was becoming clear that the challenge to the President’s authority may not be totally consummated in light of the benefits that former President Clinton was adducing to the arrangement with Republicans by President Obama. The blog today looks at a comparison of soft versus hard power in moving a very controversial proposal in the US congress with respect to the extension of the Bush Era Tax cut.

Using hard power, the ability to coerce others, whether through force or other means, to achieve your objectives in governance, is skewed towards achieving results at all cost. This type of power is effective when people you are leading presumably share some implicit interest in seeing that your leadership style or negotiated plan succeeds. The Democratic Lawmakers hardly seem to share an implicit interest or consent in the totality of the President’s negotiated arrangement with Republicans. Although they share an implicit interest in the success of his leadership on other issues, his plan in their behalf with Republicans, are questioned on the basis of principle, a principle some of the disagreeable Democratic Lawmakers insist is at the heart of being a Democrat or member of the Democratic Political Party in America.

The carrot and sticks tools of effecting the use of hard power in governance become hardly effective when the implicit consent of the led, is absent. The unique contribution of debates on whether to allow the President’s arrangement with the Republicans to go ahead comes out of probably emotional precepts and sometimes, objective conviction in the principle of being a Democrat. The Democratic Lawmakers find it challenging to swallow an arrangement that calls for barely 35% tax threshold after 5 million dollars inheritance estate valuation. Many of the Democrats would rather shoot for between 50 and 75%, which they consider is a better threshold than what is being offered under President Obama’s plan with Republicans. Democrats, who are aware of their strengths in Congress of today, that is, in which they are in the majority in both chambers, insist that if they are unable to achieve their principle and their goal while still in the majority, it is going to be difficult to achieve same come January, when they will loose their majority in the house of representatives; handicapped to rapidly move legislative bills through committee; and, unable to muster 60 senatorial votes with ease to over-ride potential filibustering.

Soft power in politics offers the leader the opportunity to influence and inspire the led, without necessarily coercing them to do the leader’s bidding. A President or congressional leader using soft power is able to shape preferences of their party members or lawmakers through example and assimilation of what as a leader, you consider most important or urgent. The ultimate results from using the soft power in politics is borne out by the hard results, a difficult achievement in an era of fragmented geopolitical relations, economy, states’ budgets, and media outlets. President Obama probably intended to drive hard results or bargain with Democrats Lawmakers, when he offered that his negotiated arrangement with the Republicans is the best option available under the geopolitical arrangement in the congress since the last elections. However, the Democrats are wavering, insisting that the bottom line results of the negotiated arrangement with Republicans is hardly anything to write home about in an era of huge national deficits and debts. With the current debate, it is not surprising that the available internal party arrangements within the Democratic Party will hardly suffice to motivate all Democrats in congress to vote for the President’s arrangement with Republicans; neither is the external leadership factors such as charisma, promises and conviction in good faith of negotiations of Republicans assuage Democrats along. Democrats who are going AWOL on the President are convinced that more can still be achieved or negotiated away from the republicans to better position the middle and poor classes in our nation.

The possibility of using hard power to bring the dissenting Democrats around to the President’s position on his arrangement with Republicans is practically unachievable in this instance, as the legislatures are dually answerable to their constituent and Democratic philosophical conviction; and, while they are prone to seeing the President succeed in his work, they are also asking themselves, at what price are we throwing in the towel. While some legislators are able to truncate their position and share commitment to a tax cut for the middle and lower income, they have some questions on the planned arrangement with the Republicans regarding the extension of the tax cut for the wealthy. This latter group do not object to affording an across the board Bush era’s tax cut extension, but they would appreciate that some elements of the tax cut are not treated in equity between the rich and the poor, as this just adds to the nation’s deficits. Frankly with respect to the concerns of the last group, there are some Republicans who are asking similar questions: can the nation really afford a tax cut with a ballooning deficit?

There are many Democrats who believe that if the President had adopted a combination of soft and hard power in effecting support from the rank and file of the party, who form his base, he will have been able to easily push through his negotiation with them. They insist if the President had maintained effective communication, having a give and take dialogue with most Democrats, if not all Democrats in congress, he would have been able to disengage opposition to the arrangement with Republicans from his party members. They further argue that because the President did not seek their input prior and during the negotiations, there was no clear expectation set and a concrete understanding of where the President was going with the negotiation or proposal articulated with the base of his party. It is hard to achieve the President's objective on his arrangement with Republicans, because appropriate collaboration was hardly sought within the Democratic Party at the negotiation stage. Had the President solicit broad based input from lawmakers and the party’s base, he would have faced such acrimony when the arrangement with the Republicans was announced as the next stage in his public policy management. Using a combination of hard and soft power affords for effective management, prevents interruption of processes and portrays the President not as heavy-handed or authoritarian. To some aggrieved democrats with the arrangement with republicans in the extension of the Bush’s era tax cut, the president seem authoritarian by insinuating that under the geopolitical arrangement in congress, this arrangement is the best deal for the nation, including Democrats. For many Democrats who are still not convinced, the president has failed to take ownership of the responsibility of communicating to the led, especially, the Democrats, the position of the Whitehouse on the issue of the elapsing Bush era tax cut come December 30th, 2010.

The President has the responsibility of getting structure into his communication with the party’s base. On more than two occasions, moving bills and public policy agenda through congress by the democrats have suffered from inefficient communication of the Whitehouse on which direction it was going. Passing of the affordable health care law 2010, suffered similar faith. In the middle of the debate, the President had to recalibrate relationship within his party and between Republicans. The necessary regular and real conversation with lawmakers which would have made the sailing of the bill, much easier were at first absent. It was only at the heat of the debate when republicans became very recalcitrant did the President open up his cards to the Democrats and insisted on constant communication with Democratic leaders in congress; at that time, everyone in the Public were beginning to be suspicious that Democrats were going to ram through a bill, which on its own merits was going to do a lot of good for Americans. It was only after there were open communications in a give and take Whitehouse summit with Republicans, the first of its kind with a President, over a bill that was being debated on the floor of the congress, was trust restored or seemed to be built. Even at that, the Republicans did not still vote in support of the bill in Senate and only one of them in the House, supported the passing of the law.

The President must spend time in constructing and reconfiguring communication with lawmakers in both parties. The lapses of the past two years must now yield; especially, since the President knows that managing the legislative process is essential for effective governance, although he is not expected to directly do this, but it is essential that he is working behind the scene, probably with an ombudsman on legislative process on whatever bills that are impending on the floor of congress, if he wants to get a bang for his buck. The President needs to own the responsibility of knowing that he has power in his relationship with congress, both political parties and the people, in moving bills through congress. Without an understanding of this responsibility, it will be difficult to build trust and develop appropriate collaborations even with members of his party, regarding a debate over a bill coming to the floor of congress. He must also solicit inputs prior to any negotiation, pre-floor debate and not wait until an impending deliberation in congress, before announcing that he has reached a negotiation with the opposition, over an issue that many members of his party have a deep inhibitions.


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