President Obama Must Learn to Compromise

The president doesn't understand that he doesn't get to call all the shots, and he must work with Congress.

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Power is the goal of every politician.

With it comes the ability to do things, to change things, to write oneself into the historical record. And, after more than three years in office, it is something that President Barack Obama still does not understand.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

As a former lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago, you would think Obama would have acquired a firm understanding of the idea of checks and balances built into the federal system by the Founding Fathers. It was their deliberate intent that no one branch of the national government become more powerful than either of the other two.

Somehow, Obama has missed this. He's still grounded in the idea that, because he won the election four years ago—as he reminded Republican members of Congress shortly after being sworn into office—that he gets to call the tune. What he forgot is that members of the U.S. House and Senate have their own agendas, their own priorities, and their own objectives that are just as important to them as the president's are to him.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

It may be that Obama would prefer to have everyone sit in a giant drum circle and sing folks songs while he calls the tune and, in a spirit of good fellowship, he gets to lead the nation down a path he alone seems to see. Unfortunately for him, things don't work that way—which is part of the reason so much of his legislative agenda is stalled on Capitol Hill. He is unwilling to compromise—as he was on healthcare, as he was on the debt limit increase, and as he is on ways to effectively address the spending crisis that he created during his first two years in office.

The president is still engaged in on-the-job training, and shows few if any signs of having learned anything up to this point. To be an effective chief executive requires a set of goals, clearly articulated as well as an understanding when it is necessary to give and when it is necessary to take. Neither his short stint in the Illinois State Legislature nor his brief time in the U.S. Senate prepared him for this. Obama is unwilling to negotiate in good faith, even with members of his own party, in pursuit of the greater good.

  • Read the U.S. News Debate: Is the United States a Nation of 'Makers and Takers?'
  • Read Jamie Stiehm: Bob Woodward and David Maraniss: A Tale of Two Obamas
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy