The post-bin Laden afterglow is fading. Those video clips of his home movies seem like scenes from a reality show, not glimpses of an Existential Threat. It's the master terrorist as an addled Ozzy Osbourne, minus the Beverly Hills couturiers and groomers. And while a few people might wait for bin Laden to sing Ozzy's "Iron Man" -- "Nobody wants him/he just stares at the world, planning his vengeance" -- our attention-deficit nation is getting ready to move on.
Significantly, while the President's overall approval rating jumped 11 percent after the killing, his economic approval fell and reached a new low: Only 34 percent approved of his handling of the economy, while 55 percent disapproved.
People were happy to see 9/11 avenged, but there's another lesson in that 11% boost, too: The public wants its President to be clear-eyed, resolute, and able to make tough decisions under pressure. We know now that the President can be (and just as importantly, can appear to be) as steely-eyed and decisive as the best of them.
They can't kill Bin Laden again. Al Zawahiri's a distant number two, and after that the terrorists' names are so little-known that our national game of Call of Duty: Black Ops will quickly descend into Trivial Pursuit. So what's next? Hmmm: Steely-eyed. Calm under pressure. Making the tough calls ... wonder where else those Presidential skills might come in handy?
Here are four "bold" and "gutsy" moves the President can make right here at home that would be good for the country ... and good for him:
1. Nominate Elizabeth Warren as a recess appointment to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The GOP handed this one to him when 44 Republican Senators signed a letter saying that they "will not support the consideration of any nominee, regardless of party affiliation," unless the Agency is watered down and restructured even more than it has been.
Now is the time to say "Look, guys: I'll negotiate whenever it's reasonable and fair. But we had a debate when we created this agency. We took some of your suggestions into consideration and then we had a vote. You lost. You can't re-legislate every law that's ever been passed by holding an agency hostage -- especially one that's designed to protect the public."
Now that's decisive and tough -- two things that Elizabeth Warren will be adding to the President's team in spades. They say she's bumped heads with senior White House officials. But strong leaders know that a little conflict can make a team stronger.
The President can also say: "What's next - ending Medicare by refusing to confirm a Secretary of Health and Human Services? I've spent the last two years making it clear that I'll negotiate with anybody -- except hostage takers. Call me when you're ready to talk. But I'm not waiting: Elizabeth Warren is running this agency. We don't have time for games."
2. Stand up for Medicare and Social Security.
And speaking of Medicare ... The public has decisively rejected the Republican plan to end Medicare and replace it with vouchers (a plan which Republicans, in an Alice-in-Wonderland rhetorical move, deny ends Medicare or even uses vouchers).
It's time for a bold, gutsy defense of Medicare that takes a firm stand against any cuts that would hurt seniors financially. Republicans and their allies keep saving its "brave" of them to contemplate plunging seniors into a future of economic deprivation and reduced access to medical care. This is the President's opportunity to explain what's really brave: Confronting the powerful interests that want to keep our health care system exactly as it is.
The public feels just as strongly that Social Security shouldn't be cut. And it doesn't need to be, since it doesn't contribute to the deficit. The President can take advantages of all the polling which shows that the public would rather raise taxes on the wealthy than cut Social Security by proposing exactly that. It's the right policy, and the right politics. If the other side wants to shut government down to protect the rich by cutting benefits for old people, that's something voters deserve to see for themselves.
3. Defend our financial national security, too.
A strong homeland needs to be protected from attacks. It also needs to be protected from the predation of dishonest financiers, a collapse of the global banking system, and unnecessary depressions and recessions.
We've seen a wave of attempts to de-fang, de-claw, and de-fund the regulatory agencies that exist to protect us from these dangers, along with attempts to revoke key portions of the Dodd/Frank financial reform bill. That bill needs to be strengthened, not weakened. This isn't just a policy issue. It's a question of national security ... economic security.
4. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.
After a relentless propaganda assault by the right (including the GOP and the initiatives funded by billionaire Pete Peterson), designed to convince people that deficits are the country's most urgent priority, the public's still not buying it. 39% say that jobs and the stagnating economy are our most pressing need, while only 15% are convinced that our biggest problem is deficits.
The President's been tacitly buying into the notion that the deficit is our most urgent problem, probably because it's one area where he feels he can cut a deal with Republicans. But that's just going to leave him taking the blame in 2012 for a failing economy and an unpopular deal.
Even if he can't get a meaningful job-creating program through Congress, he can propose it. Remember: Bold. Decisive. Gutsy. The President can say "This is what we need to get people back to work and jump-start our economy: Eighteen months of investment, followed by a smart financial plan that begins to address the deficit."
He may not get that program through Congress, but he can throw down the gauntlet: "Help me create jobs, or we'll go before the people next year and let them decide." That's a debate he can win, because the public's already on his side.
Leadership: The Sequel
The moral of last week's story was this: The public likes it when you give them something they want and do it in a courageous and decisive way. Know what else the public wants? Jobs, Medicare, Social Security, and protection from runaway banks.
Leadership in a democracy means giving the people what they want and need, things you promised as a candidate, and delivering them in a calm, cool, rational, and fearless manner. That's exactly the job that needs doing right now -- and I know just the guy to do it.
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project and the Strengthen Social Security campaign. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.
He can be reached at "firstname.lastname@example.org."
Website: Eskow and Associates
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