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Amitai Etzioni

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Obama Should Pull a Truman

Posted: 07/09/2012 11:36 am

More speeches, photo ops, and minor policy modifications will not save the flailing Obama presidential campaign. He needs to produce a drama, an event that will highlight the core of his message in ways that will deeply speak to the public and stay with it. I am not speaking of drama for drama's sake, to grab headlines, but for a showdown on a very real issue. In effect the number one issue: the way the gridlock in Congress prevents the economy from recovering, by not enacting the jobs bill and blocking a deficit cutting deal.

To proceed, Obama should pull a Truman. In 1952 the United States economy was threatened by a strike by the steel workers, whose employers refused to make a deal. (In those days, steel was a crucial commodity for a well functioning economy.) When the strike dragged on and on, President Truman invited the head of the steel workers union and a representative of the steel industry to the White House. On arrival they were told "this is not a social visit." Truman informed them that he would keep them in the White House until they struck a deal. It was reached the same day.

President Obama should invite Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for a summit on economic policy, to start say at 5 pm. At 7 pm the White House Press Secretary should ask the TV networks to make room for a major announcement to follow at 9 pm. The two hour interval will generate a great buzz, as people -- here and aboard -- will speculate over what the president will announce and gain the president the audience that is called for.

At 9 pm, the president would state that leading business and labor leaders and economists from all over the political and professional spectrum warn that the American economy is about to fall off the cliff, that is fall into a deep recession, unless major steps are taken to deal with jobs, whether or not to extent the Bush tax cuts (and if yes, which ones), whether or not to extend the Social Security tax holiday, and how to reduce the deficit by spending cuts.

The president would state that these matters cannot wait because they must be treated before January 1, 2013, and if we wait until after the elections to face them, there will be very little time to work out the details in a post-election lame duck congressional session, even if then a basic deal is struck. Moreover, experts of all stripes warn him that the financial markets, which abhor uncertainly, will not wait much longer for the US to put its house in order and threaten us with another 2008 type of crisis or worse, given the fragile state of the global economy.

The president will conclude that hence he felt compelled to take extraordinary means, and invited representatives of both parities to the White House to work out an agreed upon deal concerning all of our burning economic issues, leading with job creation and deficit cutting. They have been diligently working since 5 pm in a White House that is closed. The Secrete Service is ensuring that no one will leave until they found a way to prevent a loom national catastrophe. The Army has set up cots in Roosevelt Room, in case the negotiators need to spend the night, and the White House staff stands by to bring the negotiators whatever they need from their homes, such as medications, their favorite toothbrush, or teddy bear. The Mensa is preparing meals. All cell phones have been turned off, to prevent the negotiators from being distracted by contacts with the media and from posturing.

The president may well have to add that he has been informed by the leaders of both parties that they feel that they have to consult with other leading members of their respective parties. He will explain that he informed the negotiators that they can ask as many members of Congress as they wish to join them in the White House; that additional cots were ordered, and that the Navy was instructed to set up a field kitchen on the South Lawn to serve whatever number is needed, if be it the whole Congress. However, the president would note, whoever joins the negations will stay, "until I can come and tell the American people that we found a way to pull away from the cliff and found a new road that leads the American economy to a higher growth rate, lower unemployment, and lower deficits."

Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor and professor of international relations at The George Washington University and the author of Security First (Yale 2007). For more discussion, see icps.gwu.edu.

 
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