Sunday, January 24, 2010

Advice For President Obama

Peggy Noonan, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a speech writer for President Reagan, was on Meet The Press this morning. She believes that the reason Scott Brown won last week was the distrust voters have of all institutions, especially government.

That is certainly a symptom of the problem. But why are people so upset with government?

I think there are several reasons.

It is easier to destroy than to build. It is easier criticize than create. It is easier to divide people than to unite them. In the current political environment it is easier and safer to oppose than to compromise. And it is politically safer and more effective to offer specious criticism than to propose alternatives.

People don't get mad and motivated by something they are satisfied with, unless someone threatens to take it away. So the best political strategy is to get voters mad and motivated. Republicans are historically better at this than Democrats.

In general, people have short memories. What have you done for me today?

People crave simplicity.

People want government to leave them alone until they need something. Then they want government to fix it now.

For all these reasons, it is politically expedient to blame the government for all problems.

Thomas O'Neill, Sr., famously said "All politics is local." Today it is "All politics is personal." People are apprehensive about the economy and deficit spending and will punish politicians who do not vigorously share their concerns and their solutions. Except for the people who think abortion is the most important issue. Except for the people who think guns are the most important issue. Except for the people who think Iraq, Afghanistan, health care, terrorism or (fill in the blank) is the most important issue. And more importantly, what good is government if it can't fix it now.

The primary goal of most politicians is to get re-elected or, better yet, get elected to a more powerful position. So politicians, like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, believe it is in their interests to use the power of their offices to buy the support of voters and/or donors. Such abuse of the political system properly disgusts voters. Instead of venting their anger on the offending politician, it is often redirected to a political party, Congress in general, the president or all of the above.

Polls show that people think we are still going in the wrong direction and they blame Democrats and President Obama for not fixing it. Fair enough, they are in office, but it took years to generate the problems that confronted President Obama last year. Why do we expect him to fix them all in a year?

I have some suggestions for President Obama. Learn a lesson from your predecessor. Decide what you think is important and go for it. To hell with what voters think. Show that you have ideas and principles that you will fight for.

Pick a few issues. Pare the concepts down to bumper stickers and work to implement them. No foreign oil. Pre-existing shouldn't mean uninsured. The American economy should make jobs for many not billions for a few. A job for everyone who is willing to work (twenty years ago that would have probably gotten you labelled as a communist, but it may work now).

Global warming and true health care reform are too complicated for voters. Do what you can to move the country forward. Make it better than what you found, but take your own advice and don't make the perfect the enemy of the possible. Only when health care and climate change are true disasters will people really understand and you'll probably be out of office by then.

If that is too cynical, try this. Work to make government more responsive, competent and effective by doing a few important things well and soon. Stay away from any issue that might force voters to think. Restore trust in government. Win in 2012 and use that mandate to do a few big things in your next four years.

1 comment:

Bill said...

I am an individual, thus I must be stupid. How then do I understand this?