‘No Drama Obama’ Wins Again

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President Obama is often criticized for his leadership style. Andrew Sullivan wrote about the criticism from the left and the right in his piece from January 2012 entitled “How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics.” That article is still well worth a read today, particularly in light of this commentary about the Affordable Care Act’s disastrous roll out and Obama’s response:

Why Obama Fired No One Over Botched Roll Out

Having survived a bungled launch of the Obamacare website last year, President Obama’s Rose Garden victory lap yesterday “ended a telling chapter in Obama’s approach to presidential leadership,” National Journal reports.

“During the darkest days of the website meltdown, Obama made it clear to those who asked that it was crucial for him not to fire any high-ranking administration officials. Sebelius and McDonough both reasonably feared they would be shown the door.”

“Holding a maligned, self-doubting team together in moments of peril is too often oversimplified by the phrase ‘No Drama Obama.’ It’s more complex than that. Obama has convinced himself that scaring people with a ceremonial firing deepens fear, turns allies against one another, makes them risk-averse, and saps productivity. At no time was this distillation of presidential power put to more strenuous administration-wide test.

via Why Obama Fired No One Over Botched Roll Out.

As others have pointed out, there was another factor in keeping Sebelius and McDonough in place: the current political climate means it would have been impossible for their replacements to be confirmed. This would have left these critical departments leaderless while in crisis. In a strange way, the Republican philosophy of obstructionism actually assisted Obama’s long game. He didn’t want to fire Sebelius and McDonough and knowing they could not be replaced made it easier to keep them.

On the contrary, if the Republicans could have successfully pushed them out, they would have vastly reduced the capacity of the administration to respond to these challenges. The whole confirmation process for Sebelius’ replacement would have been a circus while HHS waited for a new secretary. Once confirmed, they would have lost valuable time getting that person up to speed. This, combined with the implementation challenges of the ACA, might actually have been disruptive enough to force democrats to abandon ship.

Instead, Obama never even acknowledged the calls for Sebelius to resign. He helped her find the resources needed to fix Healthcare.gov and they ultimately accomplished their original goal, despite losing 2+ months due to the launch meltdown.

TL;DR: Add the ACA as another achievement to Obama’s long game strategy. ‘No Drama Obama’ wins again.

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Read This: Stoner by John Williams

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“In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.” ― John Edward Williams, Stoner

The three novels written by John Williams should be required reading for everyone. Stoner is the one I read first and perhaps for that reason, still love best. It is the life story of a young man sent to college to learn new farming techniques; instead, he falls in love with literature and becomes a professor. He has a disappointing marriage and a beloved daughter who is turned against him.

He watches young men sent off to two world wars, grows old, lives into his profession. This story is not about revealing plot but character. Williams observes the minutiae of Stoner’s life with a poet’s eye and is able to make even the simplest gestures express so much.

This book is wonderfully written. If you think a book with a sparse plot about a literature professor’s life sounds boring, let me assure you it is anything but that. In his keen observation, Williams reveals truths about the human spirit and our role in the universe that stay with me like a rock in my shoe, provoking me to reconsider its ideas just when I think they’ve finally been tossed loose.

“It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” -Roger Ebert

As Ebert indicates, a movie (or book) about any subject, no matter how fascinating it sounds on the surface, can be crushingly dull if not done well. Likewise, a film (or book) about even the most ordinary daily routines can be transcendent in the right hands.

Fortunately for us, the life of William Stoner teaches us vivid truths about the human condition through a novel with a plot that would not be described as ‘exciting’. Don’t let that stop you; the prose of John Williams is often breathtaking and will stay with you long after that last page is turned.

Stoner is written in the most plainspoken of styles….Its hero is an obscure academic who endures a series of personal and professional agonies. Yet the novel is utterly riveting, and for one simple reason: because the author, John Williams, treats his characters with such tender and ruthless honesty that we cannot help but love them.
— Steve Almond, Tin House

Additional reading about Stoner:

TL;DR: Stoner by John Williams is an astonishing masterpiece that should be read by everyone.