Obama’s “Theory of Change” Goes Global?

Non-proliferation talks underway in New York this week made their first real break through in ten years. How?  Anonymous foreign diplomats are crediting President Obama’s “change of tone.”

Louis Charbonneau’s reports from a preparatory meeting for next year’s big Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference:

“Huge obstacles remain, but the clear change of tone coming from the Obama administration has changed the equation,” said one Western diplomat involved in the talks. “The U.S. is now willing to engage on disarmament. It’s willing to engage with Iran. It mentions Israel. That’s all new and it’s helping.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller read a message from Obama to the delegates on Tuesday in which he reiterated his vow to take new disarmament steps while urging delegations to bridge differences on strengthening the NPT.

Here is part of the message from President Obama to the delegates.




The language and tactics used here harken to a brilliant and influential article in the American Prospect back in December 2007 in which Mark Schmitt identified what he called then-candidate Obama’s “Theory of Change.”

What I find fascinating about his language about unity and cross-partisanship is that it is not premised on finding Republicans who agree with him, but on taking in good faith the language and positions of actual conservatism — people who don’t agree with him. That’s very different from the longed-for consensus of the Washington Post editorial page.

The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith. It thrives on protest, complaint, fear: higher taxes, you won’t be able to choose your doctor, liberals coddle terrorists, etc. One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that’s not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists — it’s a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict. It’s how you deal with people with intractable demands — put ‘em on a committee. Then define the committee’s mission your way.  [emphasis mine]

Mark Schmidt was obviously writing about domestic political change. But I think if Obama’s statement to the NPT Conference is any indication, he is working to take the theory global.