I'm no politician. My field is emotional intelligence. But emotions are central to all political campaigns. Right now, the White House is failing miserably at emotional intelligence, and it's about to cost the election.
It started when Press Secretary Robert Gibbs let loose on the "Professional Left." Then came President Obama's jokey critique (while trying to raise money!) of "Some Democrats" who will never be satisfied. Yesterday it was Vice-President Biden's turn, telling progressives to "Stop whining." And today we learn, from the new Rolling Stone interview, that the President wants unhappy Democrats to "buck up" or risk losing big this November.
Obama controls the message, and is supposed to be a great communicator, so it makes you wonder what's going on. While the President keeps attempting bi-partisanship with Republicans, he eschews it between centrists and progressives in his own party.
Here's the problem: Obama is so amazingly thoughtful and well-informed on just about every issue facing the country, that he has no time or patience for the psychological dimension. Or maybe he just doesn't get it, and is as tin-eared to simple emotional truths as he's sophisticated with policy.
If people are whining (and I don't even think that's what progressives are doing), the worst thing you can do to change that is tell them to stop. If people are dissatisfied, the worst thing you can do to win them back is make fun of them.
Here's a wild idea: How about listening? Why not invite key progressives to the White House for a public round-table? Not something private, like lunch with Rachel Maddow, but an honest, open exchange of ideas. Let's hear how Obama responds to questions from Glenn Greenwald and Arianna, for example, when all are in the same room, speaking quietly and respectfully. Then, progressives would finally feel that their opinions were heard, and mattered.
Out of such an exchange could come some significant points of agreement, as well as (and this is equally important) some mutually acknowledged points of disagreement. As it stands right now, the two sides talk past each other and just increase the friction. But only the President can change that, and he still has time.
You know what? All that sounds too reasonable, too wonky, and therefore I've made the same mistake as the President. So let me put this another way.
I work with many couples on the verge of break-up. In almost every case, both parties have lost trust and hope in their partnership. They feel the other partner doesn't get them, respect them, or truly want to restore the connection. They're defensive, dramatic, and frustrated. Sound familiar?
When it comes to the breaking point, one thing makes the difference: validation. Each partner needs to know that the other doesn't just understand his or her point of view, but rather believes, wholeheartedly, in its merit. If that happens, healing is possible. If not, no way.
Undoubtedly, there are some progressives who will never be convinced that the President isn't a sell-out. And there are some in the administration who will never be convinced that many progressives aren't toxically out of touch. But if there are just enough well-intentioned people on both sides of this dispute to validate one another, a resurgence of mid-term energy can still occur.
To those who will read all this as "soft" or naive pop-psych, please think again. The honeymoon is over. The hard part of the marriage is here. Mr. President, with all due respect, the current White House tack amounts to verbal abuse. It's contemptuous, misguided, and entirely counter-productive.
It's like that guy who tells his wife, "You'll never find anyone else, so just take whatever I dish out."
Is it all one-sided? All your fault? Of course not. But this particular relationship starts and ends with you. When you don't engage, you enrage. Right now, progressives feel that you take them for granted, that their views don't count, and that you expect them to be there for you no matter how many times you snub or ridicule them.
That's how they feel, Mr. President. Are you listening? The more you ignore the emotional aspect of your presidency, the more those emotions will do you in.