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Michael B. Laskoff Headshot

The Dalai Lama Brings Back Obama's Mojo

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Just over a year ago, dreams of Camelot Part Two overwhelmed the reality of a nascent Depression, two wars, surging unemployment, miserable standing in the world and the feeling that the country had lost its way. And while often uncredited, Obama has done a remarkably good job tackling the mess. Nevertheless, health care reform failed; high unemployment continued to grow; the Democratic Caucus acted like the stars of The Three Stooges; and a Republican Party has emerged that understands "opposition" better than "loyal." The result has been plunging presidential popularity.

The low point was the election of Senator Brown of Massachusetts; it could have been the beginning of the end as so cheerily decreed by Fox News. Instead, it was the wakeup call. Our president has responded by quietly bringing back David Plouffe. While hardly a household name, Plouffe is the guy who is arguably most responsible for the brass knuckle tactics of defeating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and then helping Obama to win the White House. And Plouffe is clearly a man with a plan to repair the president's standing and help the Democrats retake the initiative.

Look closely, and you'll already see the simple, three-part plan in action. First, remind people how smart Obama really is. To do that, put him in front of audiences that he can easily dominate with his intelligence, command of facts and wit. That's exactly what happened when the president did a Q&A at the House Republican's retreat last weak. He looked very presidential; they looked like hectoring baboons. Sadly, I don't think that Republicans will consent to such entertainments again.

Second, show how tough the president can be when it comes to defending national interest. This one is easy: meet with the Dalai Lama and sell weapons to Taiwan. The first wins us all kinds of respect amongst our NATO allies, trading partners and developing nations. The latter makes our defense contractors happy and shows that while China may own our foreign debt, it does not yet own our foreign policy. True, China is furious, but it can't figure out how to retaliate without submerging its own economy. Meanwhile, the Republicans will have a tough time implying that Obama is "soft."

Third, go populist. Health care is complicated and difficult to understand. Big Wall Street bonuses, by comparison, are easy to demonize, particularly in a period of record high unemployment. And for all the money that the banks have, it's leaders and lobbyists are now toxic enough to make the prospect of banking and financial reform very real. Even the Democrats in Congress seem capable of passing a bill before November.

Put it all together, and I'm betting that we'll see Obama's numbers start to rise fairly quickly. And assuming that the Democrats in Congress have reconnected with their inner self-preservation mechanism, the President's intent should translate more often into legislative action. If Mr. Plouffe has his way, Republicans are not going to have the easy time in November that they are expecting.