The then freshly elected President Clinton had barely dropped his arm after taking the oath of office in January 1993 before they started in on him. The "they" was Rush Limbaugh (Remember his "Day one of America held hostage" daily rant), packs of radio shock jocks, legions of Christian broadcasters, and, of course, the Fox Network. Clinton was allegedly too pro abortion, too pro big government, too pro tax and spend, too unpatriotic, too personally sleazy, and too married to Hillary. But his greatest crime was he was a Democrat. The Fox holy crusade against him didn't end until he closed the door for the last time on his way out of the White House.
Now it's Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama's turn. The cast of the anti-Clinton holy crusade warriors remains unchanged. They are gnashing their teeth in horror while rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of a President Obama. They'll soon likely get their wish and when they do they'll dust off the Clinton bash script with all the same "too" hits that were leveled against him. Some may even be tempted to sneakily toss the race card into the script.
Obama won't be able to keep the wolves totally at bay. He's a centrist Democrat like Clinton. For the hardcore conservatives that alone is enough to send red flags shooting to the top of the pole and keep them there. The added plus is that an anti-Obama feeding frenzy is a potential ratings bonanza for Fox.
There are five things then that Obama can do to damp down the yelps against him.
1. The economic mess. He's not Houdini and he can't magically make it go away. It will be tough if not impossible to deliver on the ritual debate and campaign stump promise he made to virtually cut taxes for everyone while keeping tax increases to the bare minimum. That defies fiscal logic. He can though arm twist banks to renegotiate, impose a moratorium on, delay payments, or repackage loans for thousands of foreclosed challenged homeowners. There's even some talk about government intervention to use some of the bailout money to create a homeowner foreclosure relief fund to provide government guaranteed loans to directly aid those in most immediate danger of losing their homes. He can prod Congress to use some bailout money to help these severely distressed homeowners. He can act on the proposal to create a government sponsored small business credit fund to make readily available loans and lines of credit to credit worthy small and medium sized businesses that have been refused loans by banks.
2. Infrastructure Stimulus. Obama can take the Senate up on its offer to call a lame duck special session after the elections to pass an economic stimulus bill which includes more than 10 to 16 billion dollars for the federal-aid highway program, transit, and airport capital improvement projects. It's not exactly the second coming of the old Roosevelt Great Depression job creation WPA but it will stimulate business, contractors, and suppliers, create thousands of jobs, and potentially ramp up tax revenues for cash strapped cities and counties.
3. Rein in Wall Street. He can push and prod the Fed to better monitor and enforce provisions that clamp a lid on dubious trading, lending practices, and investments by some banks and brokerage houses. That includes imposing severe penalties for those who break the rules.
4. The Iraq war. He can't end the war in the six months -- as he promised when he was a middle-of-the-pack Democratic presidential contender and then backpedaled from that promise when he became the lone Democratic presidential contender with a real shot at the presidency. But he can beef up Iraqi's security forces and then conduct a phased withdrawal of American troops. This is a good faith step toward winding down the war without compromising Iraqi security and American troop safety.
Neutralize Fox News. In an off the cuff quip in mid October, Obama said he'd be much better off if Fox News didn't dog him mercilessly. Obama's pique at Fox was understandable since he's been their number one punching bag for months.
5. But Obama can and should turn the tables on Fox. Carping and complaining about their legendary anti-Democratic Party bias, or trying to pretend they don't exist isn't going to change Fox, let alone make it go away. Instead, keep Fox in the loop. Obama should talk to the Fox guys like he routinely talks to the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN. That won't make them sheath their daggers. It might though make them pull them out a tad slower.
These five things are time and cost effective doables. They will do much to help smooth out some of the bumps in President Obama's road ahead, Fox notwithstanding.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).
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