Isolate with love, empathy, and dialogue?
This is a technique that Jonathan Chait thinks that Barack Obama uses as a sort of cunning ju-jitsu on his opposition. By drawing opponents out, inviting them into cooperation and compromise, he actually succeeds, when they behave badly or stupidly, in isolating them! Chait sees the technique in both the way that he has dealt with the GOP and with the Muslim world (via his Cairo speech):
Obama began his presidency by elaborately courting the opposition party. Republicans in Congress believed that, by flamboyantly withholding cooperation, they could deny Obama his stated goal of bipartisan harmony and thus render him a failure. Instead, they wound up handing Obama the alternative victory of appearing to be the reasonable party. Polls showed that the public, by overwhelming margins, believed that Obama was trying to work with Republicans and that Republicans were not reciprocating. Likewise, by defusing the complaint among Islamists that the United States disrespects their religion, Obama can more easily force the Iranian leadership to negotiate on the terms of its stated goals. This is actually “a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers,” as American Prospect editor Mark Schmitt wrote in 2007. “One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in,” Schmitt explained, “treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem.” This apparent paradox is one reason Obama’s political identity has eluded easy definition. On the one hand, you have a disciple of the radical community organizer Saul Alinsky turned ruthless Chicago politician. On the other hand, there is the conciliatory post-partisan idealist. The mistake here is in thinking of these two notions as opposing poles. In reality it’s all the same thing. Obama’s defining political trait is the belief that conciliatory rhetoric is a ruthless strategy.
I think that there is something to be learned here for dialogue and engagement in general. For example, some scientists think that dialogue via The Templeton Foundation with regard to religion should never be engaged in. But what if these scientists took a more conciliatory Obama-style with regard to religious discussion? Right now, these scientists run the risk of appearing unreasonable to the public, never giving dialogue a chance. But once dialogue is engaged, the instabilities of arguments are exposed and those who have engaged in good faith are perceived as being on the moral high ground. At least they tried. Right now, the Templeton Foundation is succeeding in isolating some scientists by making them appear narrow minded and intractable to reason. (How ironic is that?)