03/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Winning Isn't Everything -- In More Than One Sense

As President Obama and his team learned the last few days, "winning isn't everything" is no longer only what parents tell their children. It's useful advice for winners.

Yes, they won. They had a marvelous celebration. Hopes ran high. And then they took their impressive political capital and squandered it on nominations counter to their campaign promises. What were they thinking?

Was it elitism? How about hubris? Or was it perhaps taking a good thing too far? In politics you don't overextend your political credit, especially when you've just arrived. So there had to be a pinch of naiveté - a bit of being new to the job.


Returning favors was also in the mix. But mostly I think they just got used to things going their way. They're clever by half. And they know it.

But to his credit, the next day our new president wasn't moping about The White House feeling sorry for himself. After a night of "I screwed up" apologies delivered to the press, he was cutting the exorbitant salaries of senior executives whose companies are borrowing money from -- well -- us. Now, that was a terrific recovery from a "no good very bad day."

If you followed the Obama campaign closely, you saw that they were masters of subtle shifts. Voters noticed at times, but it was all for the greater good.

Things got somewhat rocky when post-election they decided experience, the platform that killed Hillary's campaign, was exactly what they wanted in the Cabinet. But that was justified successfully as consistent with Obama's intention to be open to other views, to needing on board the best thinkers, and to inviting in people who supported his strongest adversaries, including the lead adversary herself.

He got Geithner through by a thread because we thought he must know what he's doing and so we didn't raise much of a fuss. And maybe, just maybe, an economist can accidentally underpay his taxes. Besides, many reasoned, he could be THE exception to the rule.

But Daschle was too much and too close in time. This was, as the coarse saying goes, writing checks the Obama team's butts couldn't cash. He and they overestimated their power and nearly wrecked the popular president's credibility.

Yes, winning isn't everything. It's always wise to remember that. There's always another game to play. If I were President Obama, I'd be recalibrating - starting with more caution toward the edge of the political envelope. Bold is good but smart bold is better.

I'd stop asking for people to support crucial proposals like the stimulus package until I actually tell them what is involved, because the press isn't bothering to do so. The last thing we need is a master persuader who decides less is more in telling us why he supports anything. And there is a sense in the air that this is exactly how the wind is blowing in the newly decorated White House. It's early yet so recirculation is possible, maybe likely, if lessons from this week become memorable. But where is the Barack Obama who didn't hope for us to believe but told us why we should?

Dr. Reardon also blogs at bardscove

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