I mentioned earlier today that President Obama is poised to be the negotiator between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton now that this primary is pretty much over. That strikes me as a role that he is particularly well-suited to play. One of this President’s most outstanding characteristics is his ability to empathize and find common ground. Here is how James Kloppenberg wrote about that back in 2010.
Throughout his career, Obama has refused to demonize his opponents. Instead, he has sought them out and listened to them. He has tried to understand how they think and why they see the world as they do. His mother encouraged this sense of empathy, and it’s a lesson Obama learned well…
Although Obama’s reform agenda echoes aspects of those advanced by many Democrats over the last century, he has admitted—and this is the decisive point in understanding his outlook—that his opponents hold principles rooted as deeply in American history as his own. “I am obligated to try to see the world through George Bush’s eyes, no matter how much I may disagree with him,” he wrote in Audacity. “That’s what empathy does—it calls us all to task, the conservative and the liberal … We are all shaken out of our complacency.”
The ability to see the world through his opponent’s eyes and find common ground has been the foundation of this President’s approach to negotiating with everyone from Congressional Republicans to the leaders of Iran.
Back when Obama was dealing with Republicans over things like the federal budget, Bernie Sanders and many of his supporters saw this approach as weak and/or naive at best (“corporatist capitulation” at worst). But now, Sanders has reached out to the President as the negotiator who can help him continue the “conversation about the significant issues at stake in this election that matter most to America’s working families.” It will be interesting to see if someone like Bernie Sanders is more open to embracing common ground than the Republicans.