Americans are much more unified in their aspirations and worries than they are about how to address them. An effective political leader must be bilingual -- speaking to the anxieties and desires of both the left and the right. Those seeking to build a broad coalition to spur action must look through conservative and liberal lenses when searching for a way to appeal to as many apprehensions, hopes, and segments of society as possible when seeking support for their proposed solution.
Even those who opposed President Obama's solutions must acknowledge that his State of the Union address was a masterful effort at appealing to a broad swath of citizens. Let me recount some of the examples of Obama simultaneously acknowledging the concerns of the right while making his case for a liberal agenda.
Deficit and Debt:
Acknowledging concerns of the right: "Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population. And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms. Otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations."
Pressing an agenda that appeals to the left: "But we can't ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful."
Acknowledging concerns of the right: "On Medicare, I'm prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission."
Pressing an agenda that appeals to the left: "We'll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors."
Acknowledging concerns of the right: "Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation..."
Pressing an agenda that appeals to the left: "...and helps bring down the deficit." Many on the left believe that tax reform should include higher tax rates for some to pay down the deficit. This clause allows Obama to address that desire without saying "raising taxes."
Pressing an agenda that appeals to the left: "Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship..."
Acknowledging concerns of the right: "...a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally."
Republicans face a significant challenge in seeking to blunt President Obama's liberal thrusts and to move him beyond talking to real action on spending cuts. They must also work to ensure that they have honest partners on immigration reform in the White House and among Senate Democrats, rather than trying to team up with forces that just want to demagogue the issue.
To be an effective opposition, Republicans must be on the lookout for areas where they agree, such as trade liberalization, and be willing to negotiate for truly balanced deals. However, the GOP must be just as effective in speaking bilingual when they oppose the President by addressing the concerns of the other side as they press their own case.
Hon. Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. As the head of the first and foremost school of politics, he complements and critiques the political strategies of both the left and right while advocating win-win politics, public affairs and global relations. Kennedy is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota, served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).
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