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December 1st, 2010

What President Obama should do next

George Curry

For Republicans, the November 2nd midterm elections were about 2012, not 2010. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made that clear in a speech to the Heritage Foundation. He said, "…The fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill, to end the bailouts, cut spending and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things is to put someone else in the White House."

Welcome to the 2012 slugfest. And with more than twice as many Democrats than Republican senators up for re-election in two years, emboldened Republicans have their sights set on controlling the House, the Senate and the White House.

In order to stay in the White House, the president should adopt my 12-step recovery program:

1) Stop making concessions before entering into negotiations with GOP leaders. The November 18th Slurpee Summit has not been held at the White House and President Obama is already saying he’s willing the extend the Bush tax cuts to the top 2 percent of Americans, the group least likely to place money back into an ailing economy. The time to make concessions is during the actual horse-trading, not well in advance. (Obama and Republican leaders can’t even agree on what beverage to serve at the upcoming meeting. During the recent campaign, the President called Republicans "Slurpee drinkers" whose brains freeze when it comes to economic issues. When asked at a news conference about the possibility of a post-election Slurpee Summit at the White House, Obama replied, "I might serve - they’re delicious." House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner responded, "I don’t know about a Slurpee. How about a glass of Merlot?")

2) Assemble a new communications team. It’s embarrassing to see one of the most gifted speakers of this generation groping for words when trying to explain why the White House did a poor job of selling its accomplishments. Mr. President, read my lips: Your team has failed you - get a new one before it’s too late.

3) Ignore calls to move to the right. Whenever Democrats lose an election, there are inevitable suggestions that the party should move to the right. The last thing this country needs is two Republican parties. The under-reported story of this election is that conservative Democrats, so-called Blue Dog Democrats, suffered the bulk of the losses, especially in House districts previously held by conservative Republicans. President Obama needs to be more of a populist.

4) Make conservatives put up or shut up. It’s one thing to campaign. It’s quite another to govern. Many Tea Party candidates, including those cross-dressing as Republicans, have pledged to balance the budget while exempting defense funding and entitlements that make up 85 percent of the federal budget. Insist that they give specifics on how they can possibly balance the budget by attacking only 15 percent of the budget.

5) Use Vice President Joe Biden as the attack dog. Many presidents have used their vice presidents as their chief defenders. Richard Nixon had Spiro Agnew and George W. Bush used Dick Cheney in that capacity. Unchain Biden as your Defender-in-Chief while you continue to appear presidential.

6) Realize the public still trusts Democrats over Republicans on the big issues. In May, a USA Today/Gallup poll showed that Americans trust Democrats over Republicans on most of the important issues facing America, including racial and ethnic discrimination, unemployment, the size and power of large corporations, health care, the environment and disengaging the U.S. from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The GOP was favored to deal with illegal immigration, the federal debt, terrorism and the size and power of the federal government.

7) Strengthen the coalition between Blacks, Latinos and Asians. That coalition was the key to Obama’s 2008 victory when the majority of Whites voted for John McCain. Latinos returned Democratic Senators to power in Nevada and California. And Democrats can’t be successful in 2012 without paying special attention to people of color, who are expanding their share of the electorate.

8) Re-engage young voters. Like people of color and women, this is a critical part of the Democratic base. Looking toward 2012, its absolutely necessary to mobilize young voters to counter the edge older voters provide Republicans.

9) Be a fighter (to be used in conjunction with Point #5). Americans admire fighters, even if they disagree with them. President Harry S Truman was often depicted as giving his opponents hell. He explained, "I never give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell." President "No Drama Obama" needs to exude some fire. Ignore the fear that many Whites don’t want to view their president as "an angry Black man." The bully pulpit is the last place you need to sound professorial. Give ‘em hell.

10) Deploy First Lady Michelle Obama to more events. In many ways, Michelle Obama connects better with audiences than the President. Like her husband, she has two Ivy League degrees. Unlike the president, she comes across passionate and unscripted. It’s time to take her out of the garden and expand her portfolio beyond military families and obesity.

11) Remain encouraged. Remember that Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, whose approval ratings were almost identical to that of President Obama at this point in their tenures at the White House, suffered midterm shellackings but bounced back to get easily re-elected to a second term. Obama can also get his groove back.

12) Remain engaged with the Black Media. Part of the problem this year was President Obama’s effort to arouse the Black community came on CP Time. It was what former Nixon aide John Halderman called TL-square - too little, too late. African-Americans need to be courted all year, not just when Democrats are desperate. Given the president’s lateness, perhaps this will end questions about whether he’s Black enough.

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