Mark Penn, chief executive officer of Burson-Marsteller and former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, talks about the outlook for President Barack Obama’s speech Wednesday where he is expected to announced long-term proposals for cutting the federal deficit and a timeline for reaching them. Penn speaks with Margaret Brennan on Bloomberg Television’s “InBusiness.”
By MARK PENN
Published January 23, 2011
In his State of the Union, President Obama has the opportunity, and even mission, to articulate the new direction he has taken in his presidency since the shellacking in the 2010 midterm elections. There is no doubt that he has radically changed course by backing the Bush tax cuts, sending olive branches to big business and reshuffling his team.
But so far, the public has had to read the tea leaves on what he is really thinking and where he wants to take the country. And when it comes to fixing the economy, he has completely lacked any coherence, veering from bailouts of Wall Street to sharp condemnations.
In 1996, former President Bill Clinton was as clear as a bell, declaring that the “era of big government is over,” but this did not mean a return to fending for yourself for those in need. He went back to his New Democratic philosophy of opportunity, responsibility and community, backing a balanced budget that, at the same time, would preserve entitlements.
The best I can make of the Obama retooling is that it will be based on something less coherent but potentially just as potent — a revised economic philosophy that is based more on private sector renewal while holding firm to liberal views on social issues like choice, gay rights and stem cell research. Politically, he will leave the radical right Christian coalition behind while seeking to attract moderates who reject the Republicans on social issues but have been attracted to lower taxes, smaller government and toughness on national security.
This is potentially very successful for him – because it both splits the Republican Party and keeps together much of the Obama 2008 base, which is made up of better educated, upper-income voters who are fine with gay marriage as long as their taxes are kept low.
Last year, the President used his State of the Union speech to launch into the breach, telling Democrats to stand their ground, calling Republicans the “party of no” and basically suggesting that the assembled Supreme Court justices sitting at his feet had turned a blind eye to the need to get corporate money out politics.
This year we can expect something quite different – a tribute to working together to pass a tax compromise, a desire to put aside politics to make progress and an emphasis on putting people back to work. Last year, he was Superman; this year, he will strive to be the super statesman.
By MARK PENN
Published October 18, 2010
As we head into the midterms it is increasingly clear that there will be no winners on election night given the massive discontent of the electorate almost across the board. Even if the Republicans have a good night, it will not be an endorsement of the Tea Party any more than 2008 was an endorsement of the progressive left. It will be another cycle in the game of ping pong being played out by an increasingly non-partisan, centrist electorate given too little choice — or, worse yet, given false choices.
The problem is that the successful strategies of the two wings of the parties, particularly as the parties have been shrinking, have driven both parties closer to the extremes. Think about the math of it — if the Republican Party is, say, 26% of the country and the most conservative elements of the party are 14%, then 14% can end up governing not just a minority party but the entire country.
At the root of the discontent is the desire to have practical, not ideological, solutions to intractable problems. In most cases, the voters oppose single-sided solutions that entirely reject one party’s ideas, and favor instead approaches that combine the best of each platform. No, not soft, watered down approaches, but strong, comprehensive solutions such as we’ve seen in the past with the balanced budget accord and Welfare reform.
The Huffington Post: Strategy Corner: Stopping the Republican Comeback (Déjà Vu All Over Again) by Mark Penn
By MARK PENN
Published January 20, 2010
Once again an initially popular Democratic president tries to pass healthcare reform, raise taxes on the wealthy and expand domestic spending. And once again the voters send a sharp signal that they want him to chart a more centrist course. As Yogi Berra said “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
President Clinton’s wakeup call came with the 1994 mid-term elections — Obama’s came a year earlier with yesterday’s special election in Massachusetts.
In response to the similar situation, President Clinton fundamentally changed everything — his team, his policies, and the overall direction and message of his administration. He moved to the center with a balanced budget, welfare reform, and policies that helped concerned moms raise their kids, leaving behind the divisive bitterness of his first two years. As a part of that new team then, I saw how President Clinton consciously took his presidency back to the centrist message of his presidential campaign and relentlessly pursued swing voters; he didn’t go small, he went to the vital center — 24 million jobs and a balanced budget were big accomplishments.
President Obama now has plenty of time to turn this around before facing the kind of losses President Clinton did. But stopping the Republican machine now will not be done on the basis of words alone — it will take actions and results to calm this electorate.