President Obama’s rise up the Congressional ladder and, ultimately, winning the presidential race, was closely followed by thousands of political analysts and people all over the world. You might remember how he was hardly even mentioned among the top presidential candidates early on in 2006 and early 2007. Eventually, when the democratic candidate race was hot between Candidate Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton, his ratings were less than 30% at one point and then steadily grew with each public debate and public speech. During the presidential debates, it was clear that Obama’s ability to appeal to find a middle-ground that appealed to both the left and the right was unparalleled. Obama won the race with a record margin, with a modest budget. How did he do it?
Jim Melamed, CEO of Mediate.com, wrote an article about Obama and his mediation skills (a must read btw) and shed light on how Obama focuses not on “overcoming the opposition” but rather working with them and achieving consensus – the very foundation of the concept of mediation. Jim’s article was written in February 2008, before then Senator Obama was elected President, but is spot on in recognizing his almost-magical ability to debate along-side people with extremist views but quickly divert the conversation to the few points where they do have more agreement on.
A prime example was his ability convince Republicans that 95% of the American people will not see their taxes increase – but also make democrats happy by pointing out that the 5% of Americans that make more than $250k annually will be taxed higher. It’s a shame that such a law was never enforced now that Obama is at the helm but that is the kind of mediation strategy that Obama was able to employ to get America to vote for him. McCain, on the other hand, focused on extending Bush tax cuts and Clinton said higher taxes for all was a must – both divisive and hence did not get the consensus of the American public in general.
It’s interesting to note, however, that Obama’s amazing ability to mediate got him the top job in America but failed to get his debt ceiling proposals to pass in the republican-majority House last month. The debt-ceiling debate soon escalated into a crisis and exposed Obama’s inability to achieve congressional consensus. How is it that the same person that was able to get 300 million people to agree to his views was unable to get less than 300 people to agreement. The difference was that the rules of the game had changed. In Congress, the House is republican-majority at present and the Republicans know that this is their chance to get their policies noticed – they know that America needed a debt ceiling increase and this was their chance to get the spending cuts implemented. American general election was an open election, whereas, the Congressional debate is a highly political game of “you pass my bill and I vote for yours next week”. The parties are not at the table to achieve consensus, but rather playing a complex game of chess where only one party wins usually, but sometimes, the game ends in a stale-mate or draw as was the case in the debt-ceiling debate.