The prediction that passage of health care followed by an impressive agenda of global nuclear and Wall Street regulatory reform would lift up the administration by showing aggressive leadership seems to be one of those strategies that looks good on paper but so far has not worked in practice.
President Obama's ratings remain below 50 percent in the Gallup tracking and in most other polls. The prophesied bump from health care never materialized, and the polls show most Americans still oppose the health care plan, believing it will increase, not decrease, the cost of their care.
The administration's calculus that unpopular legislative success can translate into big November wins simply doesn't add up. Unless the administration finds a new path and a new strategy, they're facing potential electoral retribution on a scale unseen since 1994, when sweeping GOP victories seriously constricted President Clinton's legislative options.
To hold on to his majority, the President needs to make course corrections -- It's time for a new kind of bold from President Obama:
1. Make the economy and improving America's economic future his exclusive focus. In the short-term, America needs jobs; in the long term, it will take stronger educational, trade, infrastructure and immigration policies to keep us competitive on a global scale. The President needs to demonstrate to America that he has a strategy for our economy, and he needs to show how he can build on the bright spots we are seeing in the technology sector to maintain American leadership in innovation. He should have echoed President John F. Kennedy on the space program, not a retreat from it -- there is no greater or more iconic example of the frontiers of homegrown innovation than space. Just as leaders of the past set bold, daring goals for our space program, Obama today could take advantage of our technological muscle to set the same kind of targets in the race for alternative energy sources, or new cures for old diseases. He could set big goals for this new era. If there is one thing that seems clear to all nations it is that today, the future is in technology. And it is also clear that the best way to deal with the deficit is a plan for sustained economic growth in the next decade, which a strategy of tapping technological strength and the innovation it brings can help spur in a major way.
2. He should set up a bipartisan group to monitor the execution of the health care plan and propose fixes for problems that emerge. He should make this a part of the process now so that he has a way to make changes fast before any cost increases take root. He has to show flexibility in the face of public concern.
3. Financial reform should come after the midterms, not before. Having just spent hundreds of billions to get Wall Street back on its feet, now is not the time to have a messy fight that muddles the message of economic recovery. The political justification for tackling this today is that going after Wall Street is a highly popular move that could give the President and his party a much-needed boost. In reality, though, the only thing that will deliver a meaningful lift is a clear sense of an economic recovery and the new jobs that come with it. A messy fight right now only sends the opposite signal. It creates uncertainty in the markets which creates uncertainty in the economy. Reform has to be worked out -- but now is not the best time to do it.
4. Focus his tough rhetoric on Iran, not Israel. Look at the stakes here -- Israel is building houses. Iran is building nuclear bombs. Preventing Iran from pulling off the Mideast game-changer of nuclear weapons must be foreign policy objective number one. A nuclear Iran sets back regional peace and replaces it with regional escalation. This is where we need to see even more shuttle diplomacy -- finding creative ways to build a regional and global coalition that can be effective before it's too late -- and here too a chance to borrow from Kennedy, who drew bright lines in the sand when it came to nuclear threats.
5. Propose bold reforms to make democracy more responsive to the people. Meeting with CEOs instead of lobbyists is not reform. Allowing national referenda would be. Looking at electing presidents by the popular vote would be too. So would eliminating caucuses and holding national primaries. Greater Internet access to White House visitors is a step forward, but pales in comparison to the possibility of streamed access to all congressional committee hearings, all court proceedings, all presidential events, all non- national security meetings offered by a new sunshine law that opens up government in the Internet age.
6. This is a new age of social tolerance and the president should be unwavering and unafraid to overhaul the laws on discrimination based on age, race, sex, sexual orientation, and just about any other demographic. This area offers an excellent opportunity to show the kind of just, progressive leadership for which he was elected. The issue of discrimination against women in particular was raised in the 2008 campaign and the president would do well to address the issue in a major way.
The president was elected to change things and I believe he can be big and yet avoid the traps of governing too far to the left. Health care followed by financial reform can be portrayed by the Republicans as too much government at a time that people are increasingly in an anti-government mood. He can still reverse the brewing electoral storm, but the best way to do it is to be the 21st Century reformer America elected and wants.
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