Let’s see if we can’t get behind the spin on this one, shall we? The Los Angeles Times reports that Barack Obama has decided to shed his consensus approach to leadership and start making decisions on his own:
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.
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.
Put that aside for the moment. The subtext to this meme is that Obama’s team is apparently not creating much consensus any longer, or that the President is outside of whatever consensus develops. This might explain the slow march of Obama’s economic advisers out of the administration, as Obama insists on continuing the economic policies that have led to stagflation. The story might be that Obama is getting increasingly isolated from his team on policy decisions, which is a little easier to believe than turning up one’s nose to coordination and support.
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. If, however, Obama’s actions that follow don’t provide some kind of immediate relief from consistently sour economic news and better progress on the war and foreign policy, then Obama owns the results entirely. It won’t be possible to blame aides and advisers during the 2012 campaign after trying to sell the “gut instinct” change in 2011.
Addendum: Another thought occurred to me. Wasn’t the sales pitch on Obama that he would take an intellectual rather than instinctual approach to policy? This seems to suggest that even the White House realizes that they can’t sell Obama as a Mensa candidate in 2012.