Out: Consensus-building. In: Barack knows best.
In the first two years of Obama's presidency, his top aides had grown accustomed to a process in which Obama drew out and explored the views of his full team and searched for a consensus — decision by ballot, some called it.
Increasingly, however, that process has changed, according to a wide group of Obama's personal friends, informal advisors and top aides interviewed during the spring. In recent months, they say, the president has been relying more heavily on his own instincts and feeling less impelled to seek accord among advisors.
"I think he reached a point where he had to trust his instincts, and there was nothing left to inform his decision except to do that," said one advisor who is intimately familiar with the president's thinking on foreign policy matters and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
I detected and offered commentary on this new approach last week, after the president unilaterally overruled his top lawyers on Libya, and his top commanders on Afghanistan:
It's also disconcerting to see the president disregarding the advice of his own legal counsel and his top military officials on two separate national security matters -- in the span of one week. He's concluded that his judgment is paramount. More important than the established reading of the War Powers Act, and more insightful than the opinions of his commanders on the ground. The American people will render our judgment on this president's judgment next year.
Obama, of course, is well within his authority to make this pivot -- if such a pivot even exists. He's the President of the United States, and is therefore the ultimate, um, "decider." But what's the calculation here? This well-placed leak seems like a naked attempt by the White House to shift popular perception of a president mired in a swamp of low approval ratings. The implication is that the president shouldn't really be held totally accountable for the last two-plus years of policy failures because he fell victim to the messiness of compromise. From now on, we're assured, we'll be treated to Obama unplugged: Shootin' from the hip and goin' with his gut. I suspect the American people won't be inclined to extend a giant mulligan to this president, especially since he traipsed around the country peddling his pristine judgment (as opposed to his ideology or experience) as a primary selling point for his election. It wasn't especially subtle, either. Remember this?
UPDATE - A savvy catch by Ed Morrissey, who questions the alleged rationale for the president's self-serving (supposed) shift:
The catalyst for this was supposedly the Osama bin Laden raid. However, according to all reports at the time, that was a consensus decision. Some rumors even had Leon Panetta insisting to a wavering Obama that the mission should proceed. As I recall, there were no indications at the time that Obama overruled his advisers to demand action in Abbottabad. Ordering the raid was certainly a decision point for Obama, and the success of the raid had to be a confidence builder, but it hardly explains a sudden aversion to consensus.
Ed also thinks this approach may succeed as a one-use-only ploy:
If this spin is intended to get Obama off the hook for bad policy decisions in the first two years, it might work — once. He can claim to have worried too much about consensus and having taken ill-advised half measures or even entirely bad decisions to gain it, and some might give Obama the benefit of the doubt for a short period of time, even though Obama assembled the team that provided that advice.
I'm more skeptical of this analysis. President Barack "Judgment to lead" Obama campaigned for, and attained, the highest office in the land -- with all of its perks and trappings. Fairly or unfairly, the president is inextricably linked to the perceived state of the union. When it comes to the seemingly endless carousel of bleak economic news, for example, voters don't give a rip about whether Obama has been given enough time to find his "true voice," or whatever. They care that unemployment is at 9.1 percent, and the buck stops at the Oval Office.
UPDATE II: American Crossroads is marvelously relentless, producing one trenchant video after another. Here's their latest, aimed not at "instincts," but results:
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