Politico: Don’t let midterms take us back, says Mark Penn

Politico

By MARK PENN
July 6, 2010

The country is likely to go into the midterms divided and dissatisfied — conditions unlikely to produce good news for the Obama administration.

But just how bad the news could be remains uncertain. Successfully reducing and deflecting the damage could make a huge difference in the political landscape — and the administration’s future.

Many key variables are set: Unemployment is stuck at more than 9 percent, most Americans have a negative view of the health care bill, the deficit continues to skyrocket and the war in Afghanistan is not going well. Independent movements, like the tea parties, are spreading like wildfire, and the president’s approval ratings can’t seem to break 50 percent.

All in all, it could take a political Houdini to get out of this mess.

The administration’s plan, so far, seems to be to blame Wall Street for the economic mess, the health insurance industry for rising health care costs and BP for the oil spill and its protracted damage. President Barack Obama has blamed Republicans for the gridlock and a divided country.

But it is going to take a lot more than the blame game to cut electoral losses to acceptable levels. Democrats could lose 25 seats in the House and four Senate seats and still call it a midterm victory. But the fear is real that unless there are strategy changes, Democrats could lose a lot more.

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The Huffington Post: Strategy Corner with Mark Penn: Time for Obama to Lift the BP Fog With a New Strategy

By MARK PENN
Published June 1, 2010

President Obama’s political career and clout have never been in a more perilous state than this week as he faces mounting crises, plummeting poll numbers, and solutions that remain just out of reach.

The list of problems has become almost endless — the BP spill is becoming Obama’s hostage crisis, and will likely hit 100 days without a solution; unemployment remains stuck at nearly 10 percent; either from desperation or isolation, Israel has created a new Mideast challenge; Iran has enough nuclear fuel for two nuclear bombs; north Korea is threatening south Korea; the deficit is exploding and the healthcare bill remains unpopular. And these are just the top level problems; as a result, administration press briefings sound somewhat like the old theme song from “Car 54, Where Are You?” — a show from my childhood. And Voters across the country are wondering if they underestimated the value of experience and crisis management as important attributes for their president.

Despite this litany of growing problems, the president spent just 3 hours in New Orleans before heading off to a weekend vacation, attempting to move the traditional Arlington Cemetery Memorial Day ceremonies to Chicago, where they were rained out, filling up the Drudge report. Equally surprising was the White House decision to wait three months to answer questions on the Sestek job offer, and then do so on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.

So what’s a president to do facing these problems and midterms around the corner?

First, almost all of these problems are about substance, not style, branding or even communications. They can’t be addressed with press conferences and panels. The public is looking for direct and immediate action, thought out and taken by the an administration that acted boldly when it took office to prevent a possible depression.

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