John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


How Obama Can Turn It Around

Posted on January 27, 2010

(CNN) -- There is a great line in "Casablanca." Signor Ferrari says to Victor Laszlo, "I am moved to make one more suggestion, why, for what reason I do not know, because it cannot profit me. ... "

As President Obama prepares to make his State of the Union speech, I am moved to make several suggestions to him about how to save his presidency, for reasons I do not know, because as a Republican it won't profit me politically.

But here are five suggestions on how Obama could right the ship and chart a course to a second term.

Stop talking: The president's people believe that the more Obama is out in the public talking, the better off he is. And if this were still the campaign, that might be the case.

But the president is supposed to be governing, not campaigning, and the more he appears as pundit in chief, the more people associate him with their problems. He has taken the mystery out of being president, and by being too available, he has diluted the strength of the bully pulpit.

It is fine to have his advocates out speaking on his behalf, and that is their role, but he should be seen as working, not talking. No more "60 Minutes" interviews, no more covers of GQ, no more surprise appearances on late-night television. Sometimes less is more, and the American people need to see a whole lot less of this president.

Fire his political staff: Independent voters hate political consultants. Heck, most people outside of politics hate political consultants.

He should fire all of the political hacks that came from his campaign and work in the White House. He could rehire them when he announces he is running for re-election and then have his campaign pay them.

The problem with political operatives is that they completely misunderstand the legislative process. Legislation, to be truly worthwhile, has to bring the country together. Political operatives, by their very nature, are looking to polarize the voters and demonize the opposition.

Bringing back the guy, David Plouffe, who ran the presidential campaign, is only going to make things worse for this White House. Obama needs legislative accomplishments, not political tactics. James Carville was smart enough to stay out of the Clinton White House, while George W. Bush would have done much better if he had kept Karl Rove on the outside looking in. Sorry, Karl.

Hire a well-respected gray eminence to run things: President Reagan did it when he brought in Howard Baker, and President Clinton did it when he brought in Leon Panetta.

The president is in desperate need of some political wisdom. Perhaps it is Vernon Jordan, perhaps it is a Colin Powell, or perhaps it is a Tom Carper, but Obama needs someone who is respected on both sides of the aisle, someone who knows where the bodies are buried and someone who knows how to work things in the Senate.

With all due respect to Rahm Emanuel, his hard-charging approach simply doesn't work in the Senate.

Hire a high-profile Republican to lead a presidential task force on government waste: Nobody believes that this president is serious about cutting government spending. So have a Republican do it, preferably one who has some real experience in budget matters. Ask Jim Nussle, the former Office of Management and Budget director, or Doug Holtz-Eakin, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office, to lead it.

If they succeed in coming up with real recommendations, push them through a-sure-to-be reluctant Congress. If they don't, well, it's the Republicans' fault.

Announce a surge for the inner cities: The president has seemingly shied away from the crisis that is afflicting our inner cities. Crime may be down slightly nationally, but gangs are still terrorizing too many communities.

Cities such as Detroit, Michigan, are suffering. Schools are spending money for security that could go toward computers, textbooks and qualified teachers. And when kids get killed, residents turn their heads, worried for their personal safety and that of their children, and not wanting to be seen as informers.

The president needs to take the lead on this crisis, not just hope it goes away. Obama made a big mistake last year in saying police acted stupidly in Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s arrest. He can help restore his image by becoming a law-and-order president. This would help with Reagan Democrats and blue-collar voters who think he has lost his way.

I don't expect the president to take all of this advice, but he should. His political fortunes are not declining because he is failing to communicate. He is in trouble because he is failing to lead in ways that unify the country.

This advice cannot possibly profit me politically, but if he takes it, it might help the country move forward, and that can't be a bad thing.

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