John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Learning From Obama

Posted on January 21, 2013

The President’s second inaugural brilliantly pushed forward his political agenda in ways that Republicans need to understand and learn from.

Republicans will never be able to outbid the President when it comes to coalition politics.  But they need to appreciate how coalition politics, as practiced by the Democrats in the Obama era, is played and they need to come up with a game plan to counter it.

The President’s message was aspirational for the country, inspirational for his coalition partners and infuriating for his opposition.  He was able to make the cause of his diverse coalition – gays, immigrants, anti-gun people, African-Americans, Hispanics, poor people – seemingly the most important cause of the nation.  And he dared the Republicans to oppose it.

He skillfully weaved the story of America into the story of these coalition partners, ignoring the arguments from the other side, and posited in unsubtle terms that to oppose his agenda was essentially un-patriotic.

Most importantly, the President set out a road-map to complete the mission.  His message was sharply positive, and he promised to give his partners something, not take something away from the people who elected him.

Republicans keep promising the American people, and these same coalition partners, that they are going to take things away, all in the name of fiscal restraint.  Republicans used to argue for growing the pie, in the name of economic growth.  Now, they argue that everything is too expensive and that benefits must be cut.  They are like the teetotalers who show up a Keg party and tell everybody that drinking beer is bad for you.

Mitt Romney’s campaign, for example promised to stop a tax break for wind energy in Iowa.  That may have given Mitt some fiscal credibility, but it also lost him Iowa.

Republicans don’t do coalition politics very well, which could probably explain why they don’t have a very big coalition any more.   But instead of outbidding Obama, they could try to talk about the universal benefits of their policies, tailored more specifically to each group.

But first, they have to stop hating people.  They have to stop hating gay people, Hispanic people, black people, single females, thesbians, etc. and they have to condemn their so-called allies who go out of their way to offend them.

They have to then start talking about economic growth.  And they can’t talk about economic growth only with their big donors or in their districts.  They have to talk about economic growth in the big cities, in areas beset by poverty, for immigrants, for Hispanics, for Asians, for blacks.

They need to ditch their anti-government message and develop an economic growth message.   They need to come up with politics where government can be transformed to help spur growth.  Getting rid of all government won’t work.  Making government work better will work.

They need to get onto a personal security message.   They need to think critically about how to change the war on drugs into a war on addiction.  They need to think less about throwing people into jail after a crime is committed and more about making sure the crime isn’t committed in the first place.  This message will work especially well in high crime areas.

Republicans need a political reform message.  They have got their heads handed to them on voter fraud in the last election.  That was seen as an effort to suppress the vote, a bad message for a party that has inherited a good portion of the Dixiecrat coalition.   Clean elections should include campaign finance reform, earmark reform and over-all making sure that more people who want to vote, can vote.   We should be pushing for a bigger political pie because we want more voters, not fewer voters, to vote for us.  We should drop cynicism as a political strategy.   If Republicans promise and then deliver cleaner, more honest elections, they will be promising the voters something they actually want.

Republicans also need to expand the pro-family message that the party thinks it has a lock on.  A two-parent family usually does better than a single-parent family, for obvious reasons.  Twice the resources (quite often), twice the parental involvement, twice the efficiency in spending.  But Republicans don’t need to get all preachy about it.  And a pro-family message doesn’t have to be anti-gay.   While marriage is important and I am big supporter of it, successful families don’t necessarily include marriage.   It can include the extended family that comes from many immigrant communities.  Republicans should be all for keeping these family together with common sense immigration policies.  The important things that come from a family are love, stability, teamwork, and the creation of good habits for the kids, which helps makes them better citizens for all of us.  The world is a complex place and it is changing rapidly.  The GOP shouldn’t be stuck pining for the past.  They should be promoting policies that make it easier for families (in all of their forms) to thrive in the future.

America wants a positive message from its political leaders.  It also wants to know what the politicians are going to do for them, not to them.  A e can trump Obama’s brand of goodies for every separate group.  But first the GOP has to try it.