The Washington Post does something in their Sunday newspaper called Topic A, which refers to whatever they think the biggest topic of the week is. This week they asked myself and five other people (Donna Brazile, Dana Perino, Doug Schoen, Shannon Brownlee and Dan Schnur) to react to the question "What should Obama do in this August recess?" in 200 words or less. Since they only gave us 200 words, I thought I would explain my thinking a little more in a blog post.
My basic belief is this: that the Obama presidency is at a fundamental crossroads on health care. If they can't pass some kind of serious reform, a reform that requires that they take on and force the insurance industry to accept real competition and accountability, Obama will be immeasurably weakened. Other powerful special interests like Wall Street and the energy industry will know that if he can't win against the insurance industry, early in his presidency on his number one priority, that he is not likely to take them on and win against them either. In addition, his budget, which assumed health care reform, will be a shambles. And politically, a loss on his top priority combined with falling poll numbers and a continued weak economy will make him the weakest President this early in his presidency since at least Jimmy Carter.
Given those incredibly high stakes, I think he needs to go all in, announce the end of business-as-usual politics, and go for it. Canceling his vacation, while I hate to suggest it because Presidents need some time off and this one certainly works a lot harder than our last president, would send that kind of no-more-business-as-usual statement.
I recommended going to all the swing vote Senators' states, and meeting with them on their home turf and doing town halls with them, because it is putting pressure on them while not burning the bridge to getting their vote. For me, going to their home to sit down with them is a gesture of humility, a signal that he will go the extra mile to work something out with them, while doing a town hall with these Senators' constituents is a symbol of what is best about the democratic process, that the president is willing to dialogue with people. The contrast with the kind of mob-like tactics the right wingers are stoking could not be greater.
The stakes could not be higher, and at moments like this, I think the president needs to double down on his bet. To lose now, to let the special interests win, would be a huge setback for his entire presidency, because it will signal to everyone that the kind of change Obama promised in his campaign has not come to Washington. Now is the time to push ahead and make real change happen.
What I wrote for the WaPo is below.
This is the most important August recess in modern history. President Obama has gambled big by staking the fate of his presidency on health care. The debate this month -- in thousands of town hall meetings, demonstrations, news conferences, speeches and ads -- will decide whether members of Congress come back determined to get something important done or determined to take the easy path and sweep the issue under the rug. The alliance of insurance company money and "birther" mobs has raised the stakes even higher.
Obama should announce that he is canceling his vacation and traveling to every swing senator's state to meet with them on their home turf and to participate with them in town hall meetings. He needs to declare that business as usual in Washington is done and that he will not rest until we have real health reform. He should be clear: He will not cave to demands of insurance companies that oppose a public health-care option. He should rally his supporters to the cause, not just with occasional e-mails but in speeches calling on them to take to the streets and knock on doors until the bill is passed.