By J. Whyatt Mondesire
PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Mr. President, despite your predisposition to analyze and intellectualize policy decisions ad nauseam, it’s time to fire somebody.
The innate strengths that helped get Barack Obama elected seem to be diminishing his ability to govern. This President is not the first
democratically elected leader to face such a quandary. In the past, many other high voltage personalities made great candidates but because of
personality quirks or weak support staff or other deficiencies failed to cut it once they had completed their inaugural “I do’s.”
The electoral debacle in Massachusetts where Democrats lost a U.S. Senate seat they had controlled for nearly a half century and thus surrendered
their veto-proof majority in the upper house of Congress, should not have happened. The lost was not due to a personal failure by the President,
but because his political operatives failed to appreciate that good government and good politics are not mutually exclusive.
With so much riding on that single contest, someone in the political office at the White House should have noticed those right wing Tea Party
nitwits heading toward Boston Common almost as soon as the last bugle was silenced over the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s grave at Arlington.
And when the Democratic nominee turned out to be a stodgy, aloof kumquat, a savvy campaign veteran should have been dispatched to take charge. The
politics of being and staying president did not climax with election 2008. But when one inspects polling data in states which held elections during
the last year, a pattern emerges that suggests that ambivalence has again taken root now that there finally is an African American in the White
Equally disturbing has been the failure of this White House to use surrogates from either elected office or academia to directly challenge the Tea
Party bloggers, the right wing radio racists and those members of the Congress like Joe Wilson, who shouted, “You lie!” when the president made his
first appearance last year before a joint session.
Not one member of the Congressional Black Caucus, the gay caucus or women’s caucus has stepped into the national media arena. For heaven sake, have
both Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton gone soft or are they still sore about being snubbed at the Denver national convention?
Could it be that no one at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thinks they need to empower surrogates?
Some Capitol Hill veterans describe this White House as believing it can win the hearts and minds with finely themed appeals to transcend partisan
Bunk. To govern you have to win. To win you have to play in the street and also in the box seats. And sometimes to play, well, you have to make
alliances with characters you wouldn’t always invite to your mother’s Thanksgiving table.
Governing also requires that you know your enemy. In this case, bipartisanship was a lofty goal. But the other side was never going to be moved by
polished rhetoric, no matter how noble. The GOP swore a blood oath to undermine this presidency and it’s time the White House realized in a street
fight it’s wise to let the dogs out when the opponent’s pit bulls are already crowding the alley.
The time to strike back with gusto was last summer when senators and congressman who held town meetings on the health care reform package were
mobbed in their home districts. A skilled political counterpunch should have come in the form of television and radio ads featuring real
people—families, children and the elderly—telling in poignant terms what the lack of quality doctors and low cost prescriptions had meant for their
lives and fortunes.
Imagine some pot bellied senator trying to explain to a national audience of couch potatoes why he opposed caring for a little girl filmed pushing
her wheelchair through a trailer park.
A little over the top for your tastes? Well… politics is a contact sport.
Instead, the strategy by the White House was to stay estranged from the raging debate until Labor Day. Then push a convoluted bill with a
convoluted message with no fallback position when the Republicans came up with “just say no.”
Congressman Wilson was just a loudmouthed manifestation of a carefully thought out strategy by the Republican Party which cunningly gauges every
nano second of the mini attention span of the American electorate. Better than their Democratic opponents these same Republican office holders
understand the public’s predisposition to prefer sound bites over extended political debates. If voters wanted studious, would Sarah Palin have
been able to score a bestseller?
To put pressure on the right to move toward the center, the push has to come not from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but from those streets littered
with foreclosure signs and from those neighborhoods where food stamp usage has doubled in the last nine months.
Our attention span-deficient electorate likes its presidents to tell them whom they should dislike. “War on terror” worked for eight years and made
nearly every bearded Middle Easterner in New York walk with his eyes stuck in the back of his head.
Added to its missteps, this White House has also been slow to assume ownership of one of the most powerful tools in government. This failure in
turn has signaled their opponents a less than serious approach to the nitty gritty business of maintaining power.
Specifically, there are dozens of open positions for federal prosecutors and judgeships across the country.
Right now there are two vacant federal judicial posts in eastern Pennsylvania, for example. According to those who regularly watch the inner
workings of Washington this administration is behind the pace of both the Bush and Clinton regimes when it comes to appointing federal judges and
prosecutors. It goes without saying; inside the Beltway opposing politicians always pay more respect when the party in power holds the keys to the
Finally, there is the lesson of getting people to follow by just leading the way. Once inspired, even the most devoted followers won’t throw away
an easy-to-read map if it helps them steer the yellow brick road. When one door remains closed, try another and another until the one that is
unlocked is located. Since Republicans continue to block health care reform, the White House should use the unilateral levers at its disposal such
as optioning it for those federal workers whose unions agree.
Also, since many bankers refuse to ease up on their foreclosure rules in the private markets, then the federal government might assume a
significant number of troubled home loans hurting military families.
These and other bold iniatives don’t require congressional approval. Thus, the president can fire those who might get in his way. Or he can
continue along the same muddled track waiting for his enemies to come around to his way of thinking. Chances are he’ll be fired by the American
people a lot sooner.