One of my favorite web sites is Stratfor.com, a private, Austin- and Washington-based firm that specializes in geopolitical analysis. Yesterday’s analysis focused on Obama’s approach to governing. If that seems a trifle far from geopolitics, Stratfor points out that what Obama decides will impact a world that remains American-centric. Stratfor’s worldview is decidedly realist, rather than idealist. Its briefing paper sees Obama as primarily concerned with expanding his governing coalition to include hard Clinton supporters and soft McCain supporters to establish himself as a centrist. The last two paragraphs really nail it:
[R]egardless of what Obama might have thought his presidency would look like, it is being shaped not by his wishes, but by his response to external factors. He must increase his political base – and he will do that by reassuring skeptical Democrats that he can work with Hillary Clinton, and by showing soft McCain supporters that he is not as radical as they thought. Each of Obama’s appointments is designed to increase his base of political support, because he has little choice if he wants to accomplish anything else.
As for policies, they come and go. As George W. Bush demonstrated, an inflexible president is a failed president. He can call it principle, but if his principles result in failure, he will be judged by his failure and not by his principles. Obama has clearly learned this lesson. He understands that a president can’t pursue his principles if he has lost the ability to govern. To keep that ability, he must build his coalition. Then he must deal with the unexpected. And later, if he is lucky, he can return to his principles, if there is time for it, and if those principles have any relevance to what is going on around him. History makes presidents. Presidents rarely make history.