THE BLOG
01/15/2013 01:38 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2013

To Change Washington, Obama Must Turn to Main Street

As the Inauguration and State of the Union near, the central question we face is how to break the political gridlock and put the nation on a new path. Each day, there are calls for more bipartisanship and civility to bring people together, and opposing-calls for sharper-edged politics.
Each approach has its rightful place, but neither gets to the essence of what's required for real
progress.

What Americans fundamentally yearn for today is to restore their belief that we can get things
done, together. Rebuilding such belief is a process that can occur only over time; belief is built
one step at a time. President Obama must play a key role in this. But his success will depend on
his ability to create the right "disruptions" in our politics and public life -- efforts that are potent
enough to get people's attention, bring about authentic belief, and have staying power. And
which help to create a counter-force of possibility to the predominant narrative of gridlock now
strangling the country. Leading up to the Inauguration, I'll recommend three such efforts for a more hopeful path.

Without this focused action, the nation is likely to descend deeper into impasse. Seemingly
intractable issues will remain unmovable. People will not see and hear one another. Trust will
remain in short supply. And political will -- it will be non-existent.

There is abundant evidence that Americans want to believe again -- just witness the outpouring
of help in response to Newtown and Sandy and other challenges. Americans hold a latent
aspiration to reach across dividing lines and get together with others to make a difference. They
do not believe they can create the kind of personal life or society they want by going it alone.

Recommendation #1: Adopt a 'strange bedfellows' strategy

Hurricane Sandy battered the Jersey Shore just days before the 2012 presidential election.
By that time, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had logged thousands of hours relentlessly
bashing Obama on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But as soon as Sandy's damage sunk in, Christie knew he needed Obama. And the president saw an
opportunity to cross the political divide.

With cameras rolling, the two men held what amounted to a public love fest, sharing helicopter
rides, holding joint news conferences, heaping praise on one another. Christie was roundly
criticized for this, accused of throwing Romney under the bus to ensure his own political future.

But beyond the political class's hand-wringing, one could hear a collective cheer from ordinary
Americans. These two politicians had found a common enterprise: the good of New Jersey's
people. Just days before, they were combatants; now, they were unlikely partners.

This newfound cooperation arose out of need. Neither Christie nor Obama could go it alone
to achieve what he needed to do. In that way, their actions were rooted in crass political
calculation and self-interest, not a vague desire to appear cooperative. These are the kinds of
partnerships that people need to see among their leaders to help restore their belief that the
political divide can be bridged.

The president should start an aggressive outreach to political leaders across America who in
reality or perception are his opponents from the "other side."

This "strange bedfellows" strategy doesn't have to promise grand plans; people wouldn't
believe such claims anyway. Instead, these partnerships should be based on specific efforts that
can serve as proof -- believable signs -- that a new path is possible.

Obama's strange bedfellows are most likely to come from the ranks of mayors, governors, and
city council members, who are free from Washington politics. This is not to say he should give
up entirely on congressional members, but time is of the essence, and he should go where good
deals are readily available.

All across the country, states and communities are dealing with health care reform, local
schools and teacher quality, violence in communities, and other concerns where partnerships
can be struck. Each of these instances will demonstrate to people that change can happen -- is
happening -- and will serve as a counter-point to the gridlock people see all around them.

The more the president shows he is serious about this strategy, the more leaders will want
to join with him. But Obama will need to commit to this strategy over the long haul for the
benefits to have any chance to pierce public consciousness and be seen as more than a
gimmick.

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