The new year in Washington promises more of the same gridlock and partisan politics that have dominated for many years. If the president thought his reelection would end the Republican stubbornness and insistence on getting nothing done, he was wrong.
This year, we hear Republicans are ready to vote another 40 or more times on ending Obamacare. They think this is a winner for them going into the 2014 elections. It will be if all the people benefiting from Obamacare (and there are many) stay home. And don't forget all the efforts to purge young people, people of color, and other Democratic-leaning voters from the rolls. No doubt this will continue (in lieu of outreach) as America grows more diverse.
In 2014, it is doubtful the Democrats will retake the House. Hopefully, the party can hold on to the seats it has and gain a few additional seats. We wonder if more moderate Republicans will capture seats from the far-right fringe that seems to want to hold the nation hostage with its anti-Obamaism. Most believe the battle for the Senate will be brutal.
So what's coming from the administration? Will we get better messaging from the president this year than we got in 2013?
Not so far. Just this past week we got examples of the president sending what I think are the wrong messages. Granted, he did so in a long (and well-written) New Yorker article on the Obama presidency, the good and the bad. Obama gives his reasoning for his positions and speaks of the many issues on his plate. However, the headline-grabbing tidbits that came from David Remnick's "On and Off the Road with Barack Obama" included the president saying, "I would not let my son play pro football," and his suggestion that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol.
Comments like these are not going to find favor with a wide variety of Americans. I understand his discomfort with discriminatory drug sentencing laws, but let's get real here: Do we want or need more potheads? Is this the message we want to send to our kids? I don't think so. (I admit that I am an old-school parent!)
Major media outlets, including The Huffington Post, ran with the football quotation, reminding readers of a similar comment the president had made earlier:
Obama expressed similar sentiment in a January 2013 interview with the New Republic.
"I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football," Obama said. "And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much."
Why take on football? (He also mentions boxing in the New Yorker article.) We cannot take all of the danger out of everyday life, and certainly not out of sports. People who box or play football (or coach and train these sports) will tell you that much of what they do involves discipline, teamwork, fitness, and motivation. Life skills are taught in most boxing and football programs.
Beyond that, in a thought-provoking piece on Patheos.com, Pastor Tim Wright, in his Searching for Tom Sawyer blog, describes what he calls "The Emasculation of Boyhood." He draws a distinction between "play" and the increasing violence we see in society. This is the battle, Mr. President.
So if the quotations on football and marijuana were approved by the White House, I have to believe this is part of the new "messaging." This is not good for Democrats or the country.
And then there is the Obamacare messaging (which is now somewhat better than it was during the first few months after it launched). My regard for the president remains, but the administration gets an "F" on the Obamacare roll-out.
Nevertheless, Obamacare itself gets a "B." Many people are getting affordable health care for the first time in decades. Many more will get this once they figure out how to sign up. Because of Obamacare -- and this is a biggie -- people with preexisting conditions (and who doesn't have a preexisting condition these days?) no longer have to decide between food and shelter or health care.
Still, the message on the benefits of health reform needs to get out to more Americans, one family at a time, one community at a time -- the same way the Obama elections were won. Republicans and their media outlets will not make this easy, and there will be much misinformation disseminated to slow down or stop the process. In addition, there are "fixes" that need to be made to Obamacare, and these will be highlighted by those who never wanted the president to succeed in the first place.
Strong communication is needed to inform the public. Who steers the ship? Who is in charge?
I know the president has apologized for the Obamacare shortcomings. (To be honest, I'm not too keen on someone at his level being that apologetic to the public. He should talk to my mom about this. That woman never apologized to her kids about anything. As a matter of fact, sometimes we apologized for things she did. Still, it was clear who the leader was.) Stop apologizing, Mr. President. Time for heads to roll. Start at the top.
And Mr. President, put on your tall boots and get out there and do what you do best. Remind people of the reason you made this your signature initiative: the importance of affordable health care for all.
We remember that story you told about your mom battling cancer and having to spend time with excessive bills and insurance companies. Remind people that you did this for all those patients and their families who, like your mom, have mailboxes full of medical bills they cannot pay, and incessant phone calls from medical collection agencies.
Remind people of the importance of free preventative screenings to slow down or halt the spread of disease.
Remind people that you gave the other party plenty of time to come to the table and discuss the health care needs of Americans, but instead they let their dislike of you dictate their inactivity on this issue.
And finally, remind people that you did this not to score political points but because it is right for America.
This same message is needed for immigration reform, women's rights, tightening gun dispersal, creating jobs, and rebuilding our cities. This is how we unite Americans. Never mind Congress.
Barack Obama, with his moral center and superior communication skills, is the only public figure right now who can get the message out. It's corny, but it is the appeal to our higher selves, an appeal for right action.
The president we have now can do this. I believe he will. This is what a leader does.