18 September 2009

How the President Could Re-energize his Agenda

I have some suggestions for how the President could begin to change the way politics is played. I think it’s pretty obvious that the closely divided government, especially in the Senate, (as a result of Senate rules giving great power to a unified minority, which is what we have), have made it very difficult for the President to get action on much of his agenda. I think it’s clear that some pretty radical new strategies are needed to move forward on real health care reform, financial re-regulation, workers’ rights, revenue reform, environmental action, rethinking of national security issues, and other elements of the president’s agenda going forward.

The president needs to abandon traditional constraints and enter into a regular dialog directly with the American people. I suggest reaching out to the major networks and offering them this deal. The president gets ten minutes on Sunday morning, or, better, the news hour time slot on a weekday, to speak to the American people, then he will take questions from the news suits for ten minutes. EVERY WEEK. They can give a Republican spokesman the same time on the same or another day for rebuttal… it won’t matter. No Republican is the draw or has the gravitas that the president is and has.

The president will then use his time, like a fireside chat, to address a particular issue. He should follow these precepts:

1. Speak directly to the people, and ask them for help, using phraseology from the Bible and JudaeoChristian tradition, in much the way that John F. Kennedy sometimes did. Study George Lakoff and reframe everything in positive ways that influence people to want to help the president get things done. (References to “our better angels,” and “the fundamental decency and integrity of the American people,” that kind of thing). 

2. Talk about making changes in economy, environment, health, etc. for the benefit of your children and grandchildren.

3. Talk openly and honestly about the need to break the logjam of the way Congress works. Ask people to communicate directly to their congressman and senators regularly, using a system outlined below. Ask them to ask their congressperson directly, politely, repeatedly, to support the president’s policies, not just generally but the particular action he’s talking about that week.

4. Teach, but don't talk down. The president is masterful at this when he’s got the right framing going.

Next, the administration needs to be much more proactive in providing outlines, with specifics, of exactly what legislation is needed, to the key members of Congress, both House and Senate. Call them in for conferences all the time. Engage them, and never let up. The White House needs to ramp up its activity to a legendary level. We need to be speaking of the incredible energy and activity of the Obama White House for a generation to come. 

As part of the help the president asks of the people, a means of putting pressure on Congress needs to be created. The whitehouse.gov website could be a springboard. Ask people to go to a website where they will be able to link directly, by entering their zip code, to a form that goes directly to each Congressperson and Senator, giving the citizens an opportunity to say in their own words that they want the reform or action the president is talking about to happen, and they want their Congressperson to support it. This could go a long way to blunting the power of lobbies and money, by giving the people direct feedback, and a direct connection to their government at the highest level. And people will do it, because the president, speaking directly to them, has ASKED them to do it.

I have been one of the President’s progressive critics heretofore, but I have decided since the president’s masterful health care speech that we need to rally around our President, and help him, because it’s now or never, and he’s the only chance we have.

Thank you.

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