THE BLOG
11/21/2012 10:15 pm ET | Updated Jan 21, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving, President Obama (And Some Second-Term Advice)

To President Obama:

The millions of Americans who voted for you will likely sit down on Thursday and give thanks that you will be our nation's leader for the next four years. Our thanks will be added to you and your family's thanks for the same thing, I assume. We all sincerely hope you and your loved ones have a very happy Thanksgiving this year.

You will enter your second term as president with a full four years of on-the-job experience, and this too should be something America can be thankful for. If, that is, you have learned some of the lessons from your first term and make a sincere effort to change what needs to be changed in your second.

There are hopeful signs that this may indeed already be happening. The biggest lesson you should have learned from your dealings with Congress over the past four years is to not start negotiating from your compromise position. This is "Negotiation 101" -- any Union leader in the country knows this basic rule for how the negotiating game is played. If you want a trillion dollars, start by asking for three trillion dollars. Allow the other side to "talk you down" to one trillion dollars. That way you not only get what you want, you allow the other side to "save face" and claim they've gotten the better of you in the deal (since they can claim to their followers "we got Obama to cave on two trillion dollars that he wanted!"). This is basic, basic stuff but it was also the source of real weakness in your first term.

Democrats (and most Americans) know that politics requires compromise to get much of anything done -- even in normal times. So while the vocal Left will decry your compromises at times, deep down they know that even incremental progress towards a goal is much better than anything they could have expected out of President (shudder) Romney.

But also, at times, you need to stand firm. Draw a few lines in the sand. Refuse to give in. Not every time, of course, but if you pick your battles and choose issues that the American public is overwhelmingly on your side, you can win these battles even against recalcitrant Republicans. And even if you lose, they'll wind up paying the political price for obstructing you.

The first of these fights will be over ending the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000. Republicans are going to fight tooth and nail for "closing loopholes" rather than raising the tax rates. This should be your first line in the sand. The American people elected you to raise rates -- you certainly campaigned on it clearly enough. Over sixty percent of the public stands behind you on this issue, and some polls put support for raising rates as high as three-fourths of all Americans. You've already issued a veto threat, so now all you need to do is stand firm. Either the House Republicans can go along with this, or you can just force the issue by vetoing any bill which falls short. But don't back down, or else it will never again be possible for Democrats to raise any taxes for any reason, for the rest of your term. If you back down, you will have done the equivalent of agreeing to Grover Norquist's pledge. This would be a weak way to start your second term indeed.

If Republicans dig in their heels, then use the bully pulpit. One of your biggest weaknesses during the first half of your first term was your inexplicable refusal to do what Ronald Reagan used to call "going over the heads" of those in Washington and the media, and "speaking directly to the American people." You can do this, too. To great effect. Getting the public firmly behind you is crucial to getting Congress to do much of anything.

In your first term, you dropped the ball on using your online bully pulpit as well. The impressive legion of supporters you had built up for your campaign never heard a call to arms (or to the phones, more accurately) on any important issue, after you were elected. Instead, your email list gathered cobwebs, before you dusted it off again in 2012 to gin up campaign contributions. Don't make this mistake again. Again, there are signs that you plan to ask your online supporters for feedback, but even these signs are a bit disturbing, such as requiring day, month, and year of birth to even complete the survey. This isn't exactly "anonymous" feedback, and anyone even slightly concerned with the use of personal data online will not even make it past the first screen. Do you really want our feedback, or are you just data mining your supporters? Please send a clearer message in the future.

Which brings up one other tiny point. When dealing with the vocal Left, please don't allow Rahm Emanuel within 500 miles of the White House. Repeatedly (and graphically) insulting what should have been your strongest supporters was just politically stupid (note: I refuse to use the same term Rahm used about the Left, no matter how appropriate it would be right here).

Finally, allow me to close with a broad suggestion. When you and Congress have a contentious issue that absolutely must be resolved, please show some leadership. Again, you've been doing a much better job of this since your first few years, but it will be crucial with Republicans being able to block legislation in both houses. Don't allow some obscure Senate committee to yammer for months on end over an issue, because you and I both know what the outcome will be -- absolutely nothing, other than a lot of hot air released into the Washington atmosphere.

If you have to compromise, then compromise. If you have to twist arms, then twist arms. But, either way, don't just sit on the sidelines and assume Congress will get it done. They won't. Harry Reid just isn't strong enough (and doesn't have enough leverage) to get it done on his own. The White House has to take the reins -- early -- and drive the negotiating process. This doesn't mean you'll win on every issue, and it certainly doesn't mean we expect you to get everything you want while blocking every Republican idea, but you have to be seen as leading the talks on how to solve problems, even if you fail. The American public will give you a lot more credit if you fail -- but fought as hard as you could to reach an agreement -- than they will if you don't even try.

I don't mean to sound too harsh, Mister President. As I said, there are millions of Americans who are going to start off their Thanksgiving statements with "I am thankful Barack Obama will be our president for four more years..." this Thursday. Because we are looking forward (and, yes, we even have lots of hope) that in the coming years we can sit down and begin with "I am thankful Barack Obama was our president this year because he accomplished the following..." before we feast on turkey with all the trimmings.

Happy Thanksgiving To All!

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:

ChrisWeigant.com

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