The Washington Post reported yesterday that Obama's top advisers have determined that the mid-term losses were because he failed to live up to the expectations that had been set. Furthermore, they determined that Obama must forge partnerships with Republicans on key issues and make noticeable progress on his oft-repeated campaign pledge to change the ways of Washington.
The first thing that stuck me when I read that is that Obama's advisers need to be better in touch with the electorate. Most of the Democrats I know have been pretty disappointed in Obama for at least a year now. I wonder who Obama's advisers have been talking to that they are so in the dark that it took them two weeks after the election to finally figure this out.
Secondly, I don't think compromise is the right answer. Republican policies are, in general, driven by ideology. Take the tax cuts for the rich, for example. If you want to stimulate the economy in the short run, then given a choice, you'd always want to put money into the hands of poor people, not rich people. That's because our economy is driven primarily from consumer spending and poor people always have a greater marginal propensity to consume (MPC) than rich people. That's Economics 101. It's always true.
Suppose we gave all those tax cuts to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet (if skewing it to the rich is good, then skewing it to our smartest super rich people would be even better). Do you seriously believe they will spend that money buying millions of hamburgers, cars, computers, and houses for themselves? Do you think they'll buy millions of airplane tickets when they go on a vacation? Do you think that when they go to a baseball game, they will buy out the entire stadium and consume 10,000 hot dogs and 10,000 bags of popcorn while they watch the game? Of course not! Skewing tax cuts to the relatively small number of super rich is just super stupid.
Some people would say, "Oh, the rich will take that money and make equity investments in businesses that will hire people and it is those employees will spend that money." But that's not really the case since most of the equity a business raises goes in the bank.
The other point is we don't have money just lying around to give tax cuts to the rich. We have to borrow it. So why are we borrowing money to give it to rich people who won't spend it? I can't figure that one out and I've never heard of anyone in the press asking any Republican this question. Why aren't the Democrats asking the Republicans to explain why borrowing to make rich people richer is good for the economy.
I've never heard a Democrat explain how silly the Republicans are to insist on giving tax cuts to the rich just like I just did. Have you? You seriously have to wonder who is coaching the Democrats on how to explain issues like this to the American public in a way that they'll understand.
Conversely, Republicans are against extending unemployment benefits. Again, this is idiotic if you are trying to help the economy. Unemployed people spend every dollar they get. So again, Republican policies are exactly the opposite of what is needed.
The point of these two examples are that, in general, if you compromise with Republicans, you are more likely to be left with policies that don't get the job done. So even though you get something passed, if it doesn't solve the problem the public wanted you to solve, you end up losing in 2012.
On the other hand, if you come up with great policies (by using the brilliant policy process used by President Johnson, for example), then you at least have a chance of passing policies that work because you can always rally the public around great policies. If you fail to pass these policies because of Republican opposition, then you can make the case for throwing the Republicans out of office. At least you have a vision for what you are trying to achieve. That's really important. Then, if you have to compromise to get something passed, you at least can understand the implications of that compromise.
If Obama insists on passing great policies that will get the job done, he will give his constituents a reason to get excited about re-electing him. Isn't passing great public policy what it's all about?
I can tell you this. I didn't work the phone lines to help get the vote out in the 2010 elections because the Democrats didn't give me a reason to fight or get excited about their public policy agenda.
Where is the public policy that I would fight for? There is no written long-term plan to re-start and grow our economy. There is no written long-term plan that explains how we are going to stop global warming. There is no long-term plan to reduce medical costs. There is no long-term plan for energy independence. There is no comprehensive long-term written plan to make the American public education system the best in the world.
Not only aren't there great long term plans, but there aren't even committees of our smartest people that have been appointed to write these plans!
So what's to get excited about? Re-electing people who after two years have no plans in any of these important areas and have no process to even produce the plans we so desperately need? Sorry, no sale.
So my advice to Obama is really simple: follow Johnson's process to come up with great public policies, put them in writing for everyone to see (including the analysis behind the policies), explain to the American people in simple language what the policies are and why they will work, unify the Democrats behind the messaging, and rally public opinion to help you get these policies passed in Congress. That will get me excited about voting for you in 2012.