The post-midterm op-ed pages were full of advice this morning. Nearly all offered tips for a beleaguered president who took the brunt of the blame for last night’s Republican wave. Others had suggestions for Republicans who have shifted overnight from legislative roadblocks to back seat drivers: time to start governing. And then there were those who eschewed advice in favor of a victory dance: we’re looking at you, Wall Street Journal editorial writers.
The main takeaway on Obama was a familiar one to anyone who’d picked up an op-ed page in the last six months: He who had communicated so effectively in campaign mode had failed to sell his administration’s achievements as president. The lead New York Times editorial said as much and offered some counsel for the next two years.
Mr. Obama, and his party, have to do a far better job of explaining their vision and their policies. Mr. Obama needs to break his habits of neglecting his base voters and of sitting on the sidelines and allowing others to shape the debate. He needs to do a much better job of stiffening the spines of his own party’s leaders.
He has made it far too easy for his opponents to spin and distort what Americans should see as genuine progress in very tough times: a historic health care reform, a stimulus that headed off an even deeper recession, financial reform to avoid another meltdown.
In a typical bait-and-switch, the Times’s Maureen Dowd recounts in her column a conversation we’re led to believe is with new House majority leader Boehner; but turns out to be with Newt Gingrich, from 1994. See, says Dowd, the Republican leadership’s promises have a familiar ring, and their actions will have familiar results. Dowd sees Clinton’s and Obama’s failures as equally similar and familiar.
Republicans outcommunicated a silver-tongued president who was supposed to be Ronald Reagan’s heir in the communications department.
They were able to persuade a lot of Americans that the couple in the White House was not American enough, not quite “normal,” too Communist, too radical, too Great Society. All that Ivy League schooling had made them think they knew better than average American folks, not to mention the founding fathers.
The Speaker-in-waiting sounded the alarm: the elites in the White House were snuffing out the America he grew up in. It only took two years to realize that their direction for the country was simply, as he put it, “a contradiction with the vast majority of Americans.”
It’s a theme that runs through much of the Times’s editorial response to the Republican wave. In a smart take on his blog, Timothy Egan suggests Obama “recast himself as the consumer’s best friend,” and Evan Bayh, for whatever reason, is given real estate in the paper to voice his list of “where we went wrongs” and “how to fix its.” Not surprisingly, communication comes first:
First, we have more than a communications problem — the public heard us but disagreed with our approach. Democrats need not reassess our goals for America, but we need to seriously rethink how to reach them.
For anyone who believes in government as an institution to serve the best interests of the people, Bayh’s is a heckuva depressing column. It’s a call for reform to taxation and entitlements partly because he believes reform makes sense, but mostly because it makes Republicans look uncooperative should they object and makes his party electable.
Having seen so many moderates go down to defeat in this year’s primaries, few Republicans in Congress will be likely to collaborate. And as the Republicans — including the party’s 2012 presidential candidates — genuflect before the Tea Party and other elements of the newly empowered right wing, President Obama can seize the center.
I’m betting the president and his advisers understand much of this. If so, assuming the economy recovers, President Obama can win re-election; Democrats can set the stage for historic achievements in a second term. The extremes of both parties will be disappointed. But the vast center yearning for progress will applaud, and the country will benefit.