President Obama: What the “It” is that You Don’t Get

November 13, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Dear President Obama,

Two days after election day, Jon Stewart ran a hilarious clip about the media’s view that you don’t “get it”.

No one in any of the clips seemed to be able to define what “it” was.

Republicans wanted to spin “it” as you “ignoring the will of the American people.”

Progressive Democrats like Alan Grayson spun “it” as you not being liberal enough. Grayson said that Democratic voters “would’ve voted if [you] would’ve done more, and specifically, more to improve their lives.”

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this election across the spectrum – conservatives, liberals, and independents – and here’s what I think “it” is Mr. President:  You need a moral victory.

Not a moral victory in the sense of a hollow victory. But a victory where you stand up for what is right.

Let’s go back and take a brief look at what happened with health care.

In a 60 Minutes interview after the election, I saw you tell Steve Croft that  health care proved more costly politically than you’d expected:

I made the decision to go ahead and do it. And it proved as costly politically as we expected. Probably actually a little more costly than we expected, politically.

You go on to explain that the process of health care negotiations looked to people like business as usual in Washington with a lot of “behind closed doors negotiations.”

While this may be true, the single biggest complaint that I’ve heard from people in regards to health care reform is that they don’t like the idea of being forced to buy health care insurance.

It violates a moral principle about the role of government in their lives: who best makes decisions, people or the government. The public option did not violate this moral principle.

I know, I know. Things won’t change for most people who are insured through work. And there’s the moral principle of no one being denied coverage or being dropped because of pre-conditions.

This may true. But all of this seemed overshadowed by “big government is forcing me to buy health care.” Conservatives took the moral high ground.

Let’s take financial reform.

This was a huge opportunity to take the moral high ground. The entire country was angry with the “too big to fail” banks and Wall Street. When you or I or a small businessman fail, we go bankrupt. When Wall Street fails, it get bailed out.

If ever there was an opportunity for a moral victory, this was it.

So what did we get?

A lot of legislation. From the Washington Post:

The massive bill establishes an independent consumer bureau within the Federal Reserve to protect borrowers against abuses in mortgage, credit card and some other types of lending. The legislation also gives the government new power to seize and shut down large, troubled financial companies — like the failed investment bank Lehman Brothers — and sets up a council of federal regulators to watch for threats to the financial system. 

See the pattern. Legislation was passed. Even if it’s good legislation (which I believe it is), where’s the moral victory?

It seems like the banks that caused this mess are doing better than ever.  It also appears that Wall Street watered down much of the legislation. “Privatize the profits, socialize the risk” won the day with minor if any penalties.

Is it any wonder why people who voted for “Change You Can Believe In” didn’t come out for the mid-term election?

President Obama, I’m going to repeat this in no uncertain terms. What you need right now is not to tack to the right or the left in terms of legislation. What you need is a moral victory.

I say this Mr. Obama because judging from your remarks earlier today, you’re still looking for help understanding what “it” is.

Here’s what you said:

My number-one priority is making sure that we make the middle-class tax cuts permanent, that we give certainty to the 98 percent of Americans who are affected by those tax breaks. I don’t want to see their income taxes spike up — not only because they need relief after having gone through a horrendous recession, but also because it would be bad for the economy.

Let me help you out here, Mr. President, because I voted for you and am truly a fan.

I want to give you your first big moral victory. So I hope you please listen for a second and take this as constructive criticism from someone who wants you to succeed.

Relax, and the next time someone asks, simply say:

My number one priority is the economy.

In the first statement, you’re still focusing on policy. It’s long and confusing. The second is simple. Direct. To the point. It shows you haven’t lost sight of the goal.

Now to your moral victory. The table is setup perfectly for this. If you play your cards right, I believe you’re almost guaranteed a moral victory.

The issue is the Bush tax cuts.

Let’s look at your negotiation position. The folks at Harvard who wrote the book on negotiation would tell you to look at your BATNA – the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.

It’s a nice name, but what it really means is, what happens if the shit hits the fan and negotiations break down.

Here’s what happens: the tax cuts expire. For everyone.

In this case, what happens? Republicans are going to be angry. Especially, the wealthy who pushed for these cuts originally from George W.  Bush.

So Republicans are angry. Big deal. They’ve been angry for the past 2 years. Next.

Here’s what they’re going to accuse you of: raising taxes. First of all, that’s a little hard to believe. You didn’t raise taxes. The tax cuts expired because Republicans couldn’t come to the table to compromise. There’s a penalty for them saying no if you set it up right.

Here’s what you say:

If we can’t reach a compromise on the Bush tax cuts, then I’m going to let all of them expire.

Remember, you don’t have to do anything. If you do nothing, the tax cuts expire. This puts the onus directly on Republicans to reach a compromise. If they don’t act, they’re partly responsible for the failure.

But there’s a second principle in play here. A moral principle. One that Republicans capitalized on in the recent election. The principle of deficit spending. Most people are against deficit spending because they can relate to it in their daily lives. So I don’t believe people will hold it against you if you let the tax cuts expire in the interest of cutting our deficit.

Here’s a refined statement:

We should not be taking out loans so we can give money to the wealthiest Americans. And if Republicans can’t compromise, then we should let all of these cuts expire.

This shows you standing up for the moral principles of fiscal prudence and fairness. Everyone should share in this deficit reduction.

Assuming you say something like this, let’s look at the Republican options.

First, Republicans oppose you. The cuts expire fairly for everyone. Everyone has to tighten their belts equally to help reduce the deficit. Republicans have failed in their major agenda item of cutting taxes for the wealthy. You win.

That’s the worst case scenario. You win a moral victory.

Republicans will want a temporary extension of 2 years. Don’t do it. Why? Because that would be a moral victory for them. They win until they can try to un-elect you in two years.

Here’s your compromise: offer to raise the range of those with tax breaks to everyone earning under $1 million per year. This still firmly plants you in the realm of helping the middle class. They don’t want to negotiate? We’ve already been through that.

Gail Collins gets it right when she says “refusing to give an expensive break to millionaires at a time of high deficits should be a crusade. Take it to the people — let’s enjoy politics for a change!”

President Obama, you have the upper hand here. But to win, you have to play. You can’t sit back and take the advice of asshats like this guy:

“Obama wants to say to the American people, ‘I have moved to the center because I recognize elections have consequences, I recognize the incoming power of House Republicans.” – Ethan Siegal, an analyst with The Washington Exchange

The message this sends is: Walk all over me. Please.

This concedes your position before you even start. Think about it, Mr. President, what’s the worst that could happen to you?

Here it is: Republicans oppose everything you do and try to spin you as a socialist in the media. Guess what? They’re going to do that anyway.

So you can either take it. Or you can fight back.

I hope you choose well.


The American people that voted for you