The Washington Post: Mark Penn answers “Topic A”: What should Obama focus on next?

The Washington Post asked political experts where the administration should focus before the midterm elections.

Adviser and pollster to President Bill Clinton and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton; CEO of Burson Marsteller

Between now and the midterms, the administration has to focus on what it can do to provide a sense of economic recovery. Perhaps the best arena for that is in an energy bill that creates a wide array of incentives to produce new forms of energy.

The administration should not make the energy bill principally about climate change. The truth is the economic slowdown has done more to help with climate change than any bill is likely to accomplish in the near term. America wants clean, non-imported, sustainable energy — and at the same time wants to continue to use all available natural resources here and abroad to keep energy prices down. Even after the BP spill, Americans still support offshore drilling.

There is no way an immigration bill would get done before the midterms, and though the issue tends to fracture the Republican Party, turnout in the midterms suggests that this would not be the ideal time to try to tackle that tumultuous subject.

At this point the deficit is so high that a new round of stimulus would just be putting a target on the back of the administration.

Unemployment benefits need extension. Right now there is no estate tax and won’t be unless Congress acts to do something about it. Those are both issues the administration should continue to press.

But the economy and energy are where the administration has to put its legislative bets while it seeks to minimize midterm losses so it can come back from them and keep the country moving forward.

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The New York Times: Mark Penn answers “How Can Obama Rebound?”

How Can Obama Rebound?

Though BP managed to stop the spread of oil from its broken well last week, President Obama has been able to do little to stop the drop in his public approval ratings, which now, according to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, hover just above 40 percent. Add these numbers to the comment by Robert Gibbs, the president’s press secretary, that Democrats could lose control of the House in the November elections, and it equals trouble for the president in 2012. So what does Mr. Obama need to do to shore up his base, woo back independent voters and win a second term? The Op-Ed editors asked political experts to suggest a few plans of attack.

Middle Man
By MARK PENN, adviser and pollster to the 1996 Clinton campaign and chief executive of Burson-Marsteller

The most important thing President Obama can do, as Bill Clinton did during his first term, is retake ownership of the center — the voters who elected him but now feel he has moved too far to the left. That means making a real down payment on the deficit, revamping the health care act to address the cost issue, opening up new markets overseas and creating jobs by promoting innovation through spending on basic research.

Rather than cut the space program, he should double its size. He should make sure that every American with a broadband connection has access to online education. He should offer research grants and tax incentives to promote investment in our coal, natural gas and biofuel resources, as well as wind and solar energy.

Voters will re-elect President Obama only if they believe that America is on the move, creating and building things. Homeownership is still a vital part of the American dream and must remain a goal of his administration, despite the housing crisis. And he should work with both parties to come to a reasonable compromise on immigration reform, one that would create a clearer path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and effectively control the borders.

After the midterms, President Obama will likely face the same decision that President Clinton faced in 1994 — to stay the course on the left or return to the center. His choice could be the difference between a one-term presidency and four more years governing with the coalition that elected him.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Where Are the Republican Hybrid Buyers?

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published May 1, 2009

A closer look into the accelerating trend of buying hybrid vehicles

Unless you are willing to buy a windmill, the biggest green purchase out there is buying a hybrid car. Recently, the 1 millionth hybrid in the U.S. was sold, out of 135 million cars on the roads today.

That makes hybrid-buying a microtrend, and it is an accelerating one. While constituting less than 1% of all cars, hybrids represented approximately 2.5% of all new cars sold in March 2009 (21,000 of 858,000 cars sold). And it is up from 15,000 a month in March 2006 when overall car sales were a lot higher.

Hybrid buyers are far from typical car consumers. They also are far removed from the image of the budget-conscious motorist buying a hybrid to save some hard-earned scratch. I know one Prius owner who has two cars — a hybrid and a stretch limo — and carefully chooses which car to use, for an evening out or a trip to the mall.

Early hybrid buyers have been buying the cars less for their fuel efficiency than to make a statement about who they are. Just as owning a Mercedes used to scream luxury and refinement, so hybrids have been about forgoing luxury and making sacrifices to help save the planet. Sometimes that statement has been a sincere effort by environmentally concerned citizens who are spending more than they have to help us cut down on carbon emissions. Other times people buy hybrids just for the panache of it.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Green Workers

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published February 19, 2009

Presidents and politicians no longer talk about simply creating jobs — now they are creating “green jobs.” Just in the stimulus bill alone, there are said to be four million new green jobs. It’s a great term — it conjures up neatly dressed employees working under compact fluorescent lights, and factory workers in white and green helmets huddled over solar cells and wind turbines. These aren’t boring office jobs or repetitive manufacturing plant jobs — no, they’re socially useful and rewarding jobs. And they’ll save the planet, too.

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