what obama should do
A lot of Republicans are having fun watching President Obama's slide in the polls, and especially his problems with health care. But the slide is not especially good news for the country, or even for the Republicans, who are still a good way from being ready to share power again. So, as a sort of public service, I am offering my advice to the President on what is going wrong and what he should do differently.
1. I think Obama needs to draw a line in the sand with respect to the health care proposal. It would be better for him to lose than to compromise what is obviously an important principle to him, i.e., universal or near-universal health care coverage including--if not a public option--something that accomplishes much the same thing. The issue is no longer the substance of his proposal but his own credibility. If his opponents can make him back down on his biggest domestic proposal, they will own him for the rest of his term.
2. Assuming that he gets at least some version of health care, I think he needs to slow down the flow of legislation considerably and focus on a few attainable goals, preferably things that are more bipartisan and less expensive in nature. He needs, in other words, to tack to the center rather aggressively. Legislation that appeared attuned to the ongoing economic crisis, like further reform of the housing or financial markets, would make a decent start. Cap and trade would be quixotic in this atmosphere.
3. (Most important) He needs to bring a senior counselor into the White House, like Clinton did with David Gergen or Reagan with Howard Baker, who will have credibility on Capitol Hill and free him to do the things--develop big initiatives and sell them to the broader public--that he does best. The current combination of an above-the-fray President and an aggressive but relatively narrow core of Chicago-based advisors is not sustainable in the long run. George Mitchell, who is not going to get a Middle East peace deal anyway, is one choice; Leon Panetta, who is probably sorry he took the CIA job, is another. Hillary Clinton is a desperation choice.
The good news for Obama is that his travails have come early; he has far too long to go to be considered a failure yet. But the next few weeks may determine whether he turns out more like Jimmy Carter (ineffective) or Bill Clinton (maddening but gets the job done). One of the most important tests of leadership is to recognize one's own limitations and compensate for them. We'll see if he does.