Monday, May 12, 2008

Stifiling dissent is the highest form of patronization

Last week, Tom Maguire highlighted this article from the Washington Post that began with a profile of a post-Pennsylvania-loss Obama campaign meeting:

For two hours after dinner, Barack and Michelle Obama, campaign manager David Plouffe, message man David Axelrod, deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand, communications chiefs Robert Gibbs and Dan Pfeiffer, family friend and Chicago business heavyweight Valerie Jarrett, and scheduling chief Alyssa Mastromonaco hashed over the presidential campaign's history, looked at the upcoming primaries and decided how the candidate would approach the coming two weeks. Obama wanted to get away from the sniping, including his own, and get back to the approachable, hopeful campaign of last winter's long sojourn in Iowa.

The tenor of that meeting lines up well with the Newsweek article now being widely discussed (via Hot Air ). Obama endeavors to run civil, snipe-free meetings:

How do you know if Barack Obama is unhappy with what you’re saying— or not saying? At meetings of his closest advisers, he likes to lean back, put his feet on the table and close his eyes. If he doesn’t like how the conversation is going, he will lean forward, put his feet on the floor and “adjust his socks, kind of start tugging at them,” says Michael Strautmanis, a counselor to the campaign. Obama wants people to talk, but he doesn’t want to intimidate them. “If you haven’t said anything, he’ll call on you,” says Strautmanis. “He’s never said it, but he usually thinks if somebody is very quiet it’s because they disagree with what everybody is saying … so Barack will call on you and say, ‘You’ve been awfully quiet’.” There are no screamers on Team Obama; one senior Obama aide says he’s heard him yell only twice in four years. Obama was explicit from the beginning: there was to be “no drama,” he told his aides. “I don’t want elbowing or finger-pointing. We’re going to rise or fall together.” Obama wanted steady, calm, focused leadership; he wanted to keep out the grandstanders and make sure the quiet dissenters spoke up.

I won’t make hay over the “I don’t want…finger-pointing” remark.

Because it would be a distraction.

Rather, returning to the Washington Post article, how interested is Obama in actually having a discussion and hearing different views?

"It wasn't like 'Let's have a discussion.' It was 'One, two, three, four, here's what we're going to do,' "a staffer said. "When things don't go well, he doesn't yell and scream. He's very prescriptive. Everybody understands this isn't about having a discussion. He's got 99 percent of the voting shares. There's no point in taking a vote."

Does Obama actively court quiet dissenters in the exercise of the highest form of patriotism, or does he only pretend to encourage dissent, so that he can more effectively stifle it in the benevolent dictatorship of his campaign?

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