Obama Should Not Treat His Enemies Like Future Friends

A Thanksgiving parable.

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The sleekest, fattest turkey in town this Thanksgiving is the victorious Chamber of Commerce taunting those in lean times, including the 44th president who just had his proverbial political head cut off in a tough election.

Here in Washington, the Chamber's stately Roaring '20s building with Corinthian columns faces the White House across the way. You can almost hear the gobbling, strutting, stuffing, and feasting going on as they celebrate the new Congress the Chamber did so much to bring about. Over in the Oval Office, a slender young pilgrim president ponders how he and his band are going to make it through a harsh winter in the wilderness.

[See editorial cartoons about the 2010 elections.]

They crossed over an ocean of trouble already, so they were seaworthy. Passing healthcare reform was not unlike signing a new social compact aboard a ship landed in the New World. Yet the pilgrims lost some wise elders early in the journey—Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia—who well remembered the old country.

But were they landworthy? Because that was what governing was all about. Setting sail with your dreams and promises was like a campaign. But breaking ground to live together on the new land was governing and holding things together with more than words.

The president faced a splitting of the people into twos. Roughly half were for him, and half were against him or disappointed with him. He had no idea what to do.

Squanto, the Indian who befriended the band, did more than show them how to plant fish with corn. He also advised the young "chief" not to treat his enemies like future friends. They will never be your friends, said the sage Indian, even if you were the pilgrim Prince of Peace.

That was all, but it was plenty. Suddenly, the new American pilgrim president saw he had the toughest fight ever on his hands. Unity might mean something to him, but not to the two new opposition leaders, Pilgrim John Boehner and Pilgrim Mitch McConnell. They would let some of the pilgrim colony go up in smoke or freeze in winter if they had to, in order to take power. As Squanto said, these two were never going to make peace with the president.

[See editorial cartoons about the Republicans.]

And so the thing to do was to keep governing, but keep campaigning too. Remind the pilgrims what they sought, stood for, and believed in as their common shining lights in the dark. Hold on to the glory, promises, and dreams in the messy middle of governing. The campaign must never end in a good democratic government, especially in hard times of change.

The pilgrim president figured that Pilgrim John was slightly less hostile than the warlike Pilgrim Mitch. But the president knew what he had to do. Deal coldly with his enemies and talk warmly with the people as they plow the land to make it through the winter together. 

Then, keep talking as if your political life depends on it. Because it does.

Happy Thanksgiving to a hardy pilgrim people.

  • See a slide show of the 5 biggest winners and losers from the 2010 elections.
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