Midterm election shellacking: Obama must adjust
Obama got a shellacking in this midterm election. As Bill Clinton did, he must now change course by taking smaller steps and reaching toward the middle.
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Obama could reach out to the other side by returning to a Lincolnesque “team of rivals” approach and nominating a Republican to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates when he vacates that job.Skip to next paragraph
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The biggest problems on the minds of voters are the federal deficit and jobs. The president can lead the way on jobs by compromising with this lame-duck Congress on the Bush-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of this year. He seemed open to a tax compromise at his press conference today. The quicker that certainty returns to the tax code, the better for the economy.
The deficit, and beyond that, the debt, will require heavy lifting. Here, Obama could become the transformational president he wants to be. He should not wait for Congress, but move first with substantial proposals to reform costly entitlements – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Other presidents have been burned by touching these third-rail issues. But in December, Obama will have the report of his bipartisan debt commission to provide him political cover. Oddly, the tea party could help him, too – its No. 1 priority is reducing government spending. The looming threat of the financial markets also makes this time different from others.
Of course, common ground can’t be found without the participation of the opposing party. Republicans are right when they acknowledge that Americans see them as a second chance, not the second coming. Now that they share responsibility for governing, they must shoulder it and not work only to defeat Obama in 2012.
One thing Republicans should not do: try to totally overturn Obama’s health-care law without offering a viable alternative of their own that includes some of the more popular features of the current law. A danger also exists that another health-care debate could again consume Congress.
Republicans should also beware of the power plays, earmarks, and corruption that undid them during the GOP era of Tom DeLay as House majority leader.
Lastly, the president needs to adjust his tone. That’s a tough thing to ask, actually. “I am what I am,” the saying goes.
But for the past two years, what Americans have heard mostly from the president’s bully pulpit is a somber defense of his policies and a complaint that somehow people just don’t get how hard it is to turn this economy around.
His record on the economy is defensible. As criticized as his use of the Bush TARP money and the stimulus package may have been, both measures very likely saved the country from another Great Depression (along with steps by the Federal Reserve).
At his press conference today, Obama said that whenever he gets out of the White House and interacts with Americans, he feels upbeat about the future. “The American people always make me optimistic,” he said.
Lay some of that optimism on us, Mr. President.