The president’s final news conference of the year was hardly inspiring. One senses he’s adrift, maybe even disoriented. The once political messiah is now widely derided, ignored and/or disliked. Still, we all have three years of this to go. What would help to make 2014 a better year for the president?
1. Stop accusing opponents of operating in bad faith. One of the low moments in a very low news conference was his accusation that senators advocating sanctions are only interested in their own reelection. This particular insult was aimed at Democrats as well as Republicans, but his accusations of mendacity make him look small and even mean. Moreover, it simply incentivizes his opponents to strike back.
2. A better staff. The most respected Cabinet official in his entire presidency arguably was defense secretary Robert Gates, with defense secretary and then CIA director Leon Panetta a distant second. Who does he have now? Literally no one who has credibility. One and all they are perceived as partisan and spinners. Obama needs to give up his security blanket of yes-men and flunkies, hire some esteemed advisers and then listen to them.
3. No more government by whimsy and fiat. The never-ending series of Obamacare changes enacted from the White House briefing room are an abuse of executive authority and, worse, a sign of abject panic. He’s made the law a moving target and incomprehensible to average people. If his signature legislation is to be changed, he should do so deliberately and legally. The result is likely to command more respect and less confusion.
4. Get 1/2 a loaf on immigration reform. A comprehensive immigration scheme with a pathway to citizenship for the vast majority of 11 million illegal immigrants already here is the ideal, but most likely an unattainable one. The president should sit down with his best Democratic deal-maker on this topic, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and figure out how to pull out a few provisions for which there is widespread support (DREAM Act, high-skilled workers, visa overstay remedies) and make a deal. Obama badly needs to accomplish something and merely blaming Republicans for failure is of limited utility (both because the public no longer gives him the benefit of the doubt and because he now needs a win for himself more than a defeat for his opponents.)
5. Less is more. The president is overexposed and increasingly disliked. The two are not unrelated. Fewer appearances and a lower profile may actually help his standing and give his critics less material to use against him. His fans like to say he is his own best spokesman. It just isn’t true.
6. Understand 2014 is it. Barring a miracle — retention of the Senate majority and recapture of the House — 2014 will be the last year in which he can accomplish much of anything. After the midterms, Obama may face a Republican majority in the Senate and, in any case, we’ll be off to the races, the 2016 presidential race specifically. If he has a mini-bargain on entitlements and taxes or a passable energy bill, 2014 will be the time to do it. If he wastes 2014 on unattainable items to please the far left, Obama will have effectively ended his presidency with nothing to show but a crumbling health-care plan.