Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How the President Can Regain the Upper Hand

I was working out at the Y yesterday when I saw this:

Scott Brown's Fair Game; His Truck Isn't - Neil Cavuto | Your World - FOXNews.com

I met Neil Cavuto a few years ago at the Iowa League of Cities annual convention. A very nice guy and very smart. A politico I used to work for really didn't care for him much, but this post isn't about Cavuto...it's about the President and how he could regain the upper hand, both for his agenda and for the Democrat party.

I remember the "arugula incident" Cavuto refers to. It was eerily similar to then-Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis' suggestion during the farm crisis that Iowa farmers consider raising alternative crops, including...wait for it....wait for it...Belgian Endive. Yeah...remember that one? Don't get me wrong! Belgian endive has a wonderful place in our menus and tummies, but regardless of if it's Belgian endive or arugula, it smacks of elitism. Whether you're a gravy sopper or into fine dining, if you are at all into politics, you know that you need to keep the "touch" and understand the plight of the "common man."

Here's where President Obama has fallen away from the people who elected him. While stumping recently for Massachusetts Senate candidate, Martha Coakley, President Obama said, referring to Scott Brown's now iconic pickup truck, "Anybody can own a truck." Really. Really?

Just like President Bush needed to, President Obama needs to get out from behind his phalanx of advisers and "yes men" to re familiarize himself with the people. I, like many other people can't own a truck right now. And even for the people who could own a truck, with the price of gas and the high unemployment rates...Mr. President, and I say this in a completely not-Keith Olbermann way, we are not all millionaires like you and your wife. So, since he finds himself struggling through the implementation of his agenda, then he need to do himself a favor and follow this plan:

1. Get out of DC and meet with real people who aren't handpicked by toadies. If he wants to know what's resonating with people and what is unnerving them, ask them. People will talk to President Obama, because he has a very easy way about him, and they'll tell him the truth.

A few years ago, I got a call from the staff member of a national politician about setting up a town hall meeting. I offered a location, which spoke to the issues they wanted to bring forward, and even a list of people they should have there to speak the truth about the issues. Nope. The staff member didn't want the truth, but simply a photo-op in a 100% controlled environment. I understand the need to have control, but national level politicians don't rise to that level by not being savvy.

2. Listen to people about the issues, and consider doing what they want. President Obama walked away from the people who led him to the White House, and started paying more attention to Congressional leaders. This caused him to get lost in the wilderness and amongst him staff. Instead of hearing the real words of real people, he become caught up in the echo chamber.

It's been clear that the massive health care proposal brought forward on behalf of the President (because he was apparently too busy to prepare his own package, and left it to Pelosi and Reid), was a no go from the beginning. But instead of making it clear he was listening to the people, he and his staff (mostly in the form of Robert Gibbs and Anita Dunn) derided those opposed to his agenda, and minimized their ideas. The fringe left who voted for Obama expected this reaction, however, the average person who voted for him didn't. He has now lost their ear because he never offered his ear to them. President Obama should know that you can't ignore the people and expect to pass any meaningful legislation or even get re-elected.

3. Get off the television and react appropriately to different situations. He's been everywhere, all the time. People are paying more attention to the President and the presidency than they ever have. Because he's constantly making statements in front of a camera, making speeches in front of home crowds, and are seemingly omnipresent, he minimizes the value of his presence and the power of his words. In addition to this, the President should change his communications team...completely. It's important for him to get someone who can handle the day-to-day communications duties appropriately as well as not antagonize the media.

Odds are the President won't do anything at all. He seems to be comfortable moving forward from where he is. And I've never seen so many people...smart people...offering their advice and suggestions, only to be ignored. The President ignores this advice at the peril of his agenda.

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