Barack Obama’s politics of turning rivals into partners

When US Vice-President Joe Biden returned to the White House 11 days after the burial of his son, President Barack Obama dashed out of a meeting to welcome him back.

Mr Biden was returning to the West Wing after weeks of outpouring sympathy following the loss of his son, Beau, in June this year.

President Obama travelled to Biden’s Delaware home town and gave an emotional eulogy for Beau.

For the past six years, Mr Biden, a leading voice in foreign policy and an old hand in Washington politics, has been a strong pillar of the Obama administration. President Obama has regularly described his deputy as a “trusted and loyal friend.”

So close is their relationship that Mr Biden attends President Obama’s morning briefings in the Oval Office and they two have lunch together every Wednesday.

After their election in 2008, President Obama entrusted Biden to handle critical issues related the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Economic Recovery Act and huge chunks of foreign policy, besides being the regular link with Congress.

The partnership is one of the defining features of President Obama who visited Kenya to attend an entrepreneurship conference.

President Obama has distinguished himself for the courage to work with individuals who would, otherwise, be his rivals.


Mr Biden ran against President Obama in 2008 but dropped early with a declaration that the youthful senator from Illinois was “not yet ready” for the presidency.

But Mr Obama would later turn to the 72-year-old (he was then 65) five-term senator as running mate in what was largely seen as aimed to fill a gap in his resume: inexperience in foreign policy.

According to a 2008 article in the New York Times, Mr Biden’s choice added “a few years and grey hair to a ticket a bit young (Mr Obama was 47).”

But the most dramatic was the appointment of Mrs Hillary Clinton with whom they had waged a highly vicious battle for the Democratic Party ticket to the powerful post of Secretary of State.

Moreover, President Obama retained Bush-era Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as a show of bipartisan continuity in a time of war.

This was the first time a Pentagon chief was carried over from a president of a different party.

ODM secretary-general says Ababu Namwamba’s approach is a strong lesson in mature political engagement.


“President Obama’s spirit of bi-partnership and courage to work with political rivals should teach our colleagues in government that constructive political engagement can help build a nation,” said Mr Namwamba.

“Our politics is too toxic, too juvenile to even allow us to see what we all can do together. Let President Obama’s leadership and his visit inspire us to become a better people and a country that engages in mature politics,” said Mr Namwamba.

Former US President Bill Clinton has celebrated what he calls Obama’s commitment to “constructive cooperation.”

“The cooperation between Hillary and Obama is an important lesson that democracy doesn’t have to be a blood sport. It can be an honourable enterprise that advances public interest,” he said in a campaign speech.

The retired President argues that when citizens are frustrated, angry, hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may look good.

“But what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world, is cooperation because nobody is right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice day.”

He advises against a political arrangement in which the Opposition perceives the government as the enemy, believes that it is always right and considers compromise a weakness.