It’s no secret that President Obama is in trouble. But, as I said last week, he’s down but not out. President Obama needs to take a page out of the Bill Clinton playbook. Part of the genius of former president Bill Clinton is that when he was in trouble he was able to showcase an energetic and capable administration — one that was endlessly offering up ideas and engaging Congress and the public on forward-looking policies and plans.
Bloomberg columnist Albert R. Hunt wrote an article a few days ago outlining “How Obama Can Rescue His Presidency From Faux Scandals.” Al Hunt is well-credentialed to speak for the left, and his recommendations should be taken seriously. Hunt says that President Obama could take steps to regain his political footing by appointing a special counsel to investigate the IRS, accepting Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation and abandoning the widely discussed idea of making U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice the head of the National Security Council.
In some ways, appointing a special prosecutor would sideline the Republican momentum on the IRS scandal. For at least a while, everyone would have to defer to the special prosecutor’s office, which would undercut Republicans on the issue and give White House spokesman Jay Carney an excuse not to talk about the scandal. The matter would be pushed out of The White House, as it should have been last week.
Accepting Eric Holder’s resignation is a no-brainer. His credibility is spent. The president needs a fresh face and renewed stature in the attorney general’s office.
And President Obama needs to acknowledge the obvious: Susan Rice would be ineffective — both at home and abroad — if tapped to head the NSC. With all the confusion surrounding Benghazi and what took place, the only person we know for certain who did not tell the truth is Ambassador Rice. She would be nothing but a lightning rod for the remainder of Obama’s term in office.
These three defensive actions would go a long way in at least temporarily mitigating the damage done to Obama’s administration. But Al Hunt’s points got me thinking about what else I would do besides call in more lawyers and rearrange some deck chairs on the Titanic. President Obama not only needs better scandal management, but he also needs a complete reboot for his second term with some affirmative policy initiatives. If I were him, I would turbocharge an effort for corporate tax reform, open an aggressive debate about entitlement eligibility and means-testing and delay the implementation of Obamacare.
On corporate tax reform, President Obama needs to give up on the notion that he has a mandate to raise taxes on everything and everyone, and he should bring everyone to the table by offering reforms with no strings attached. Republicans already have given President Obama his tax increases. The president should declare victory and then, in the interest of economic growth, initiate talks to reform the corporate tax rate without all his weaselly, deal-killing preconditions.
President Obama also needs something new regarding entitlement reform. He received some backlash from liberals when his FY2014 budget included minimal reforms to Social Security through a switch to a chained CPI calculation for these benefits, but entitlement spending may be an area in which only a second-term president could drive big changes. Obama should double down and roll out proposals for Medicare eligibility and Social Security means-testing.
Finally, the president needs to call for a one-year delay in Obamacare. Its implementation is a disaster, and Obama can either get ahead of this problem or watch his signature victory crumble. Calling for a delay would turn the politics of Obamacare on its head. Many Republicans who know that the rollout is cratering on the state level will suddenly be insisting on the implementation of Obamacare. If the president gets a delay, he lives to fight another day and maybe gets a lifeline for his administration’s favorite cause. And if he doesn’t get a delay, he can blame Republicans for the debacles to come.
There are a host of other ideas that President Obama and his team could consider, but he needs three to five strong ideas on which he can show progress and reshape the perception of his presidency. Immigration reform would be another good area for the president to address, but I honestly can’t think of anything constructive that he would be able to add to the debate. It will be good for him politically if immigration reform passes on his watch, but, at this point, he is so radioactive that he needs to stay out of it. If Obama actively tries to insert himself into the immigration reform efforts, his participation probably would diminish the chances of it passing rather than boost the chances for reform.
President Obama needs to get serious, get focused and get to work. He needs to round up his cabinet and staff and tell them to stop wringing their hands and fire up Air Force One to get on the road promoting his proposals. He should engage a small cell in the White House to handle scandal management, leaving everyone else free to work on substantive issues without being distracted or becoming completely demoralized. The president has a window of opportunity to get back on his feet, but in his current trajectory, with the absence of any apparent plan, he’s drowning. The president needs to get to work. Who knows — he might get lucky.