Words To Get Obama Back On Track
Wednesday - December 02, 2009
President Barack Obama is within six weeks of completing his first year in office. It is time, sayeth this ancient scribbler, to dip into the font of Democratic Party wisdom to remind the young man from Hawaii of hard lessons learned.
Let us begin with an observation of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. He once famously said that, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”
In the first 11 months of his administration, Obama has learned the truth of Cuomo’s remark. Few post-World War II American politicians have mastered campaign poetry better than Obama. Throughout the campaign, whether talking hope or change, peace or war, jobs or healthcare, Obama’s oratory was lyrical.
But my-oh-my, Obama has been forced to govern in prose like no new president in my memory. He inherited an economy in free-fall, two enervating wars, a healthcare system on the verge of collapse, and a radical Republican base intent on delegitimizing him as a) a Christian, b) an American, and thus c) constitutionally as president.
(We will pass on discussing, for the moment, those Republicans from Dixie and other points - north, south, east and west - who could not, would not and never will accept his presidency on the grounds that he was, after all - sssssh, now, we shouldn’t be saying this aloud in the greatest, most egalitarian country in the world - not lily white.)
Add to these challenges the burden of a Republican Party whose elected members know but one word of prose: “No.”
“No” to a jobs bill. “No” to healthcare reform. “No” to the appointment of the first Hispanic to the United States Supreme Court. “No” to regulatory reform of the banks. And, of course, “no” to any tax to pay for anything, including the two wars they so gloriously launched six and eight years ago.
An acknowledgment here. One South Carolina Republican congressman has demonstrated his knowledge of two other words: “You lie,” shouted from the floor of the United States House of Representatives at the visiting president.
No, our keiki o ka aina must govern in prose. He must inspire from time to time, but he must out-think, out-reason and - if he is to prevail - out arm-wrestle his oh-so-prosaic opponents.
Let us hearken as well to the words of Democratic political consultant James Carville during the 1992 presidential campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Carville’s employer, Bill Clinton, did prove stupid, but not in regard to the economy. His stupidity followed a more animal channel.
Norway’s gift to Obama of a Nobel Peace Prize was nice. So were pictures of him walking on the Great Wall of China. But foreign policy isn’t going to make it.
Americans want affordable healthcare. Americans want jobs - above all else, Americans want jobs. And increasingly, if they think about foreign affairs at all, they want out of both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama should take his script from Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933: Try every good idea he hears that will create jobs. If it doesn’t work, try another.
If that one doesn’t work, try yet another.
Finally, listen as always to the late, great Speaker of the California Assembly, Jesse Unruh: “Money,” said he, “is the mother’s milk of politics.”
Obama doesn’t need to hear this one. In his presidential campaign he raised and spent more money than any presidential candidate in history. Obama took cash from tinkers, tailors and candlestick makers; lawyers, doctors and professors; movie stars and college students. Wherever there was a dime to be had, he took it.
The problem, of course, is that all those folks now own a piece of Obama. And many of them grow restive. Some wanted him to champion a single-payer healthcare system. Others didn’t want him to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Almost all wanted him “to fix” the economy - that means create jobs.
Six weeks before the end of his first year in office, the nation’s unemployment rate stands at 10.2 percent. In the eight most recent national polls, Obama’s approval rating topped 50 percent in four of them and fell below in four others.
“Poetry, prose and the economy,” Mr. President.
Lest you forget, a lot of folks are invested in you.
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