Ten Ways Obama Can Get a Grip
Our new president had a bad week. Here's how he might avoid letting it turn into a bad month.
February 7, 2009 - 12:00 am
Third, figure out if he wants to be Reagan (bipartisan, high-minded) or Carter (peevish and partisan). It is hard to do both. And, if he tries, he only creates the aura of hypocrisy and confusion. (Reagan is better, by the way, if he’s interested in a second term.) The effort to up the partisan bile hasn’t benefited him. As Charles Blow of the New York Times noted:
In a Gallup poll released Wednesday, a slightly larger percentage of Americans said that since Obama was elected, the level of civility between Democrats and Republicans in Washington had gotten worse, not better. And, as one would expect, nearly twice as many Republicans as Democrats thought that the tone had gotten worse. (Half all of respondents said that it had stayed the same.) …
Democrats, on the other hand, should know better, especially No Drama Obama. He comes across as much more competent when he appears unflappable. That’s part of what inspires so much confidence in him, and confidence is all people had to go on with the stimulus bill.
Fourth, find all the tax and other appointee problems in a week and clear out all the less-than-squeaky-clean appointees at once. The drip, drip of further issues and complications will snarl him in a never-ending storyline that is disastrous for Democrats: they raise taxes ‘cause they don’t pay them.
Fifth, project strength and confidence on foreign policy. No more scraping and bowing to the Iranians. It is unseemly and doesn’t work. Take credit for the ongoing successes in Iraq and praise the elections to the hilt. So long as President Obama gives the impression he is embarrassed by American policy or its might, our adversaries won’t take us seriously and our friends won’t rely on us.
Sixth, make a major address on free trade and ask Congress to ratify the South Korea and Colombia free trade deals. Nothing is more dangerous for the world economy than a trade war. And nothing provides greater hope for a recovery than securing and expanding free and open trade.
Seventh, make clear in definitive terms that the Bush tax cuts will remain in place until we have firm evidence the recession is over. He has hinted as much, but the markets could use the encouragement. This will engender some confidence in the business community, help “unspook” investors, and deprive Republicans of a major campaign issue for 2010.
Eighth, stop appointing senators to cabinet and other key posts. There is no evidence senators have the requisite management skills to lead large organizations. And, moreover, the prospect of still more appointments (Sen. Ron Wyden is up for HHS, we are told) will necessitate that there be more gubernatorial selections to back fill their slots. This only perpetuates the political complications and appearance that the Democratic Party isn’t very democratic. And we don’t need any more seat warmers.
Ninth, less is more. He’s only been president for two and a half weeks but he is in danger of becoming overexposed and stepping on his own news cycles. The power of the presidency isn’t enhanced by increasing the frequency of his appearances, but by making them meaningful and compelling. It really didn’t help his cause to appear on five networks to apologize for “screwing up” on Tom Daschle.
Tenth, stop complaining. He tells the school kids he’s glad to be out of the White House. He’s impatient with the pace of legislation. He’s obviously peeved with the Republicans. There is something to be said for happy warriors and optimistic leaders. The country, struggling to work itself out of a recession, doesn’t need a whiny, morose chief executive.
None of these are very difficult tasks. But they require a fundamental rethinking on Obama’s part of the role he has stepped into and the shift from partisan candidate to president. It requires recognition that governing is different than campaigning, that the press won’t always make excuses for him, and that the American people expect more from their president than they do from a candidate. For the Obama team, it’s time to raise their game.