Monday, July 26, 2010

How Obama Could Have Avoided Failure

When Obama came to office, he had everything going for him: willing supermajorities in both houses of Congress, an excited public that was willing to try something new, and a fresh start for the Democratic Party with the American people. But he fell flat on his face, and I don’t think his failure was ideological so much as it was his poor leadership and poor political strategy. Here’s how I think Obama could have gotten away with his agenda without losing the majority of the American public. . . yep, it's alternate universe time.

Let’s start with a couple pieces of general guidance. First, speed is crucial. Political capital is fleeting, especially once interest groups start picking away at legislation. Thus, Obama needed to pass his agenda quickly; I would aim to get the big pieces passed within the first 50 days of the Congress -- this makes the best use of his political capital, lets him act when he is strongest, and denies the opposition the time it needs to put together a counterattack strategy. Also, doing so much so fast makes opposition more difficult because there is just too much to attack.

Secondly, it is a mistake to trust Congress to put together legislation. The process involves too many egos and too many interest groups. Obama should have come prepared with completed legislation. To make this more palatable to Congress, I would have called in the committee heads in November 2008 and given them a month to mark up the legislation. That would give Congress a stake by letting them feel like they are being consulted (which rectifies the real "Clinton mistake"). I’d also ask them to include a couple things they would find unpalatable, so that we could eliminate those in a pretend negotiation, which would allow the Congressmen/Senators to claim that they supported the bill, but also gives them something to tell their interest groups -- “it could have been worse if not for me.”

Third, the key is to make each proposal sound harmless or even like a good thing, no matter what it really does. It is also important that each proposal create a constituency that will protect it once it is in place, and Obama must carefully avoid coming across as a Pelosi-type Lunacrat.

STEP ONE: The Stimulus

The stimulus was the first big mistake. It created no jobs, stimulated nothing, and bankrupted the government. It was a sop to unions that became an albatross around the Democrats’ necks. What Obama should have done is to put ideology aside and spent at least half the money in a way that would actually stimulate the economy, rather than blowing it on state budgets, unions and pet projects. In fact, what he should have done is to eliminate the payroll tax entirely for most workers because those who pay no taxes are less concerned about government growth.

Secondly, any money he did spend should have been spent directly on hiring people to work for the government, rather than passing it out to contractors. Countries that accept socialist thinking have large numbers of people who depend on the government. More than 50% of Britons and Spaniards work for the government directly or indirectly, but only a couple percent of Americans do. Thus, he should have used the stimulus to swell government ranks.

Third, he should have taken a cue from Machiavelli, and slowly showered the rest of the money upon his friends over a five year period. Thus, if they want their money, they need to stay loyal. This also has the benefit of making the stimulus look a lot less expensive, as you highlight only the price for the first year.

STEP TWO: Volunteer Corps

Obama should have pushed right away to create the (paid) “volunteer” corps he kept talking about. I would have sent these people (mainly college kids) to work in hospitals, schools and retirement homes. Not only would this reduce the costs of those institutions, each of which are largely paid for by the government, but this also reduces teen unemployment, teaches kids and the people in the institutions receiving the volunteers that government is good, and is exactly the kind of idealism that inspired the dippy youth of America to vote for him -- they have since abandoned him.


Obama went about ObamaCare all wrong. He should have proposed the key parts as three small bills. The first would require private insurers to cover the uninsurable. The second would sever the link between employer and health insurance by cutting the tax break for providing insurance. The third would have created a public option, where “the government will use its expertise to get insurers to competitively bid for insurance, which will then be made available to the public at the government’s cost.” Subsidies and restrictions could all be added a couple years later once these items are in place.

The beauty of this is that it costs almost nothing to create (and the end of the deductions would actually bring in a lot of money in taxes), so there would be little reason for people to fight this, except that it would eventually put insurers out of business -- something that would be a hard sell for opponents given the public’s populist mood. It also doesn’t look like a public option because the government isn’t providing the insurance itself. Moreover, this plan could begin providing benefits immediately, unlike ObamaCare which doesn’t really kick in until 2014, and the bad guys would appear to be the insurers and employers. . . not the government.

STEP FOUR: Immigration

Immigration will always be a big sticking point, but there is a solution. First, Obama should have doubled the number of legal immigrants allowed into the country. The public doesn’t know how many are allowed in right now and this number could be increased with little publicity. In the meantime, Obama should have invested heavily and publicly in sealing the border. In particular, I would have looked to hire white males as a civilian security force to patrol the border. This would reduce unemployment among a key demographic and would go a long way to convincing this group that Obama is a different kind of Democrat.

Then, in the second year, once I could claim the border was sealed, I would argue that we need an amnesty program for those who are already here -- subject to a huge fine to placate the public. . . which could be waived administratively (and thus out of the public's sight) depending on the income of the applicant (to placate Hispanic groups). Now here’s the kicker: to appease the public further, I would propose that we not increase the overall level of immigration. Thus, we would “re-allocate 1/2 the number of slots currently given to legal immigrants to clearing up this illegal situation." Since Obama doubled the number of legal immigrants the year before, this is entirely misleading, but few people would put this together.

STEP FIVE: Populist Fever

The one other thing Obama needed to do was to break up the banks that were “too big to fail,” re-impose regulations that Bush and Clinton removed, and boost the powers of banking regulators. With the populist rhetoric flowing on both right and left, this would have made him very popular and would have bought him tremendous cover for the rest of his agenda.

This is pretty insidious stuff, but I think it would have worked. The key to getting the American public to accept something is to put it in place in small increments and to build a constituency that wants to protect what you’ve done. All of this does that. The stimulus looks cheaper and it would have generated jobs. ObamaCare looks a lot less threatening, but is actually more threatening than what Obama ultimately created. Even immigration could probably be seen as a “win” for the public, when it actually would be a total loss. And each program would create new constituencies that depend on the government for a living. The right would have screamed bloody murder the whole time, but I honestly don’t think the rest of the public would have listened because nothing here sounds horrible on its face and, with all of this being done so quickly, there is simply too much for the public to pay attention to.

In the end, I think we should thank our lucky stars that Team Obama didn’t know what they were doing and that their compadres in the House and Senate were radical fools. If they had been more rational and more willing to act incrementally, I think our future could have been very different.


LL said...

There is a thuggish quality to the Chicago folks that barack hussein obama runs with. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at them and connect the dots.

Your suggestions are all sound, but none of them are the "Chicago Way" of doing things. Why dance with a rapier when you can stand flat footed with a meat cleaver?

obama could have done a number of things which would have endeared him to the nation - but he did none of them. Part of the problem stems from the greedy (dare I say, evil) and wrong-hearted people best typified by ACORN who swept into office with him.

He'll go down in history as a little man in a big hurry, who made the most of being of mixed race, at a time when the nation wanted tho think that meant something.

AndrewPrice said...

LL, I think you're right. History will not be kind at all to Obama. I think he legitimately had a chance to move the country beyond race. . . but he didn't. From the Democratic perspective, he had the chance to endear the people to his party for a generation. . . he didn't. He had the chance to do actual good to our economy. . . he didn't. He had the chance to fix a lot of foreign policy problems. . . he didn't.

In fact, he's the first President in my lifetime that had a legitimate clean slate from which to do the right thing. BUT, as you note, he went the Chicago Cleptocrat way and he let Pelosi's Lunacrats run the policy end.

I think if he'd done what I says above, that he would have had MUCH better results (for his side, not the country) and I fear that the public would have accepted it from him as a new experiment.

So count me thrilled that he chose the wrong path.

Joel Farnham said...


What is really fortuitous is that Obama assembled the team he has. They don't think in terms of getting people behind them to control them. They think in terms of controlling people to get them behind them.

In other words, they don't want those people in the tent pissing out, because they can't stand most of the people of the US. Those people bitterly cling to their guns and religion.

Last year, during the townhalls, the people who supported Obama and agenda strutted around and sneered after the citizens who were concerned. If it didn't get out on the internet, they could have gotten away with it, but it did.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I think you've put your finger on part of the problem -- this administration is entirely tone deaf and indifferent. They know what they want to do, and the only people they thought they had to make happy were enough Congressmen to get their stuff passed. So they never factored in "how will the people react to this?"

I don't know if it's simply an intense ideology, i.e. they knew the people wouldn't like this and just didn't care. Or if this was simple incompetence, or if they got so used to the public loving everything they did without ever questioning them, that they just got lazy? It's probably a combination of all three. But whatever it was, it made them blind to the normal rules of politics. . . which apply even to Messiahs.

Also, let me add something else to what you've said: I have never seen Obama as anything more than an empty suit. So I'm not surprised that he's out of his league. But I did think his team of handlers was a lot better than they've proven to be.

Anonymous said...

Andrew: The Good Lord looks out for drunks, small children, and the United States. Obama isn't Hitler, he isn't Mao, and he isn't Stalin. He's more like a guy who would do a deodorant commercial with the words: "I'm not really the President, but I play one on TV."

As one who has been privy to the methods of both the Chicago and San Francisco political machines, I can tell you that the most visible representatives of the machine come in two types. Those who are real, hard-core, Machiavellian leaders (like good old Mayor Daley). And there are those who are nothing more than the polished, pretty, ambitious but weak types who can be pushed to the top to do the dirty work of the organization (Obama).

The danger for the machine inherent in the latter type is that the fool might decide he actually is capable of leading. That's where Obama is now. He had his private agenda, fueled by racial resentment and Marxist ideology, but the machine was sure it could just squelch the worst of that and let him do only what was necessary to give him the appearance of being an actual leader.

Unfortunately for the machine, Obama loves the spotlight and believes his own propaganda. So we ended up with a leader who can't lead but because he thinks he can, he's screwing up the machine as well as his leftist acolytes. Thank the Lord for small favors.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That's my understanding of Chicago politics as well -- thugs and figureheads. I think they thought Obama was a figurehead, an empty suit. Whether he is now in charge or his team is just out of their league, that I don't know. I do know that relying on Pelosi/Reid to create the agenda was a HUGE mistake.

What's interesting to me, as I outline in the article, is that I think Obama could have gotten his agenda in place without angering or scaring the public, except that they did it wrong. We should be very thankful that they haven't been smarter politicians.

Anonymous said...

Andrew: Your thesis is right on the money. The Chicago political machine says "what can we get away with?" Obama thinks "what can I do to make me look like the Messiah?" Those two modes of thinking can work together occasionally, but when the empty suit decides that his messiahship might be damaged by the practical power-grab of the machine, the whole plan falls apart. The machine cynically plays the "we love the people, let's give them bread and circuses" ploy, while the Messiah actually believes he's on a mission to help the people. Both are dangers to the Republic, but they don't play well together.

In an odd twist of irony, Obama has turned out to be for the Democratic Party what John McCain is for the Republicans. A weak, uninformed, not-too-bright "maverick" who thinks he's Abraham Lincoln.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I think McCain and Obama share something else in common -- they've both been horrible for their parties.

Ed said...

This actually makes me happy. I think you're right and that kind of scares me how easy it probably would have been for Obama to push all this through if he was smart about it. But he wasn't smart. Thank God you're on our side and not theirs!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed. Don't worry about me changing sides, I like our dental plan. ;D

Seriously, I could never be on the left because I know that leftist policies don't work and I can't see myself believing something I know won't work.

It is kind of scary that Obama could have pulled this off if he'd been smarter, so I'm glad he wasn't more capable. But that's what happens when you don't look for the most competent candidate, but instead look for the most flashy one.

Tennessee Jed said...

Certainly an interesting hypothesis, Andrew. It may have worked, but it would ultimately hinge on unemployment. When he immediately broke all his campaign promises with his cabinet appointments, his credibility quickly came into question. All I know is, I want him out after one term. He can sit around writing his memoirs, blaming Bush, and lamenting he hadn't hired Andrew Price as an advisor.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Cutting the payroll tax would actually have spurred a lot of employment. That's probably his biggest mistake, that he blew all of his budget on pay-offs to friends. . . he got greedy. He should have taken care of the country first, and then the payoffs.

I want him gone in one term as well. I think this plan (which I do think would have worked) shows how dangerous he could have been. But even with his failure, he's pretty dangerous. He's spent us to the point of bankruptcy, he's discredited our foreign policy, he's mucked up parts of our economy, he's let Mexico fall into a civil war. . . etc., etc.

The sooner he's gone the better. He just better take the Democrats in Congress with him!

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Jed, There isn't enough money in the Treasury for me to put on my Machiavelli hat for him. If he wants my advice (and I'll give it for free), put in place conservative policies.

Actually, I take that back, for a couple billion, I'll help him out. . . of course, I will feed him conservative ideas and he wouldn't know the difference, so it's kind of a win win. :-)

BevfromNYC said...

I totally agree with you, Andrew. Which is why I think Obama & Co. may look great on t.v., but are shockingly bad politicians. I think what really hurt them is when, right out of the gate, they got caught slamming through that $700B stimulus bill without reading it. That shocked everyone. Then they moved immmediately to slam the healthcare bill through in the same manner, but we the people screamed back wait just the darn minute. Remember the "townhalls" last summer? After the stimulus debacle, WTP wanted to know EXACTLY what in these bills that we had just assumed that our reps were reading and understanding.

But I will add that I think that the Right side of the aisle would have worked with any incremental legislation just for the same reason you state in your article. On it's face, the smaller bills would make THEM look good and all "bi-partisan-y".

Maybe God (and the Tea Partiers) are looking out for us.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I have to agree that this is one of those moments where we got lucky. . . or it was divine intervention.

I think that if Obama had followed the plan above:

(1) people would have felt much more confident in his plan -- since you wouldn't have had the chaos of Congress trying to pass things that weren't even written when the first vote came up;

(2) Obama would have acted at a time when people still liked him a lot;

(3) the proposals don't look scary at all the public; and

(4) as you point out, I think most Republicans would have gone along because none of it looks threatening and they would have wanted to appear bipartisan.

It was only the insanity of Pelosi/Reid, and Obama's willingness to let them run wild with their insanity, that turned the public against them and stopped their agenda cold. America got very, very lucky.

MegaTroll said...

Interesting article! I agree with Bev, I think the right would have gone along with everything you say to try to sound bipartisan, and we would be in a huge, huge mess today. Thank God that didn't happen. This mess could have taken a lot longer than to clean up than it's taking to clean up the Great Society mess Johnson created!

AndrewPrice said...

Mega, It would have been a disaster. It takes a LOT of failure before people are willing to realize that a socialist system is unsustainable. And then it takes another generation to undo the damage. We are still only half-way to fixing the mess Johnson created, and some communities haven't even begun to recover.

BevfromNYC said...

It can worked out well for the Republicans to look like a united party of adults for refusing to put their collective names on some of the more reprehensible bills. That puts them at an advantage going into election season. The Dems can call the Republicans the "Party of No", but they still don't get that the overwhelming majority of WTPeeps were screaming "NO, NO, NO" at ever turn.

The Democrat candidates will have to do the really heavy lifting to explain why they didn't hear us. You can already see the backtracking and evasion with them.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Very true. Team Obama really messed up and the Republicans played it perfectly. Now the Democrats have the impossible task of needing to explain why they did what they did, whereas the Republicans are already aligned with the country.

Along these lines, I saw this weekend that Biden actually said "the Republican Party is the party of the Tea Party." Gee, thanks dummy! How stupid is that to associate your opponent with a cultural phenomenon that is capturing a huge, excited part of the electorate!

With enemies like these, who need friends!

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew, the subtext to Biden's statement(though I shutter at the thought of a Biden subtext...) is that "the NAACP and John Lewis et al. have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the TP'ers are all a bunch of racists and the Republicans align themselves with the TP'ers, ergo, ipso facto prest-o chang-o the Republican are a bunch of racists."
With a wink, wink, nudge, nudge, Biden thought he was subtly scaring all those lost Independent voters back into the Democratic fold. No one wants to be thought of as a racist, right?

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, That's correct, that was his intent. In fact, there has been quite the coordinated attack on the Tea Party the past couple weeks, and this was just part of it.

But the problem is that polls show that no one outside of the left thinks the Tea Party is racist. To the contrary, every poll shows that people like the Tea Party and sympathize with its goals and members.

So this was stupid for Biden to say. . . . just like it was stupid when they tried to tell people: "the Republicans will repeal ObamaCare". Really? Then I'm votin' for them!

This just shows how out of touch they really are with the public. If they had any brains at all, the would be trying to absorb parts of the Tea Party rather than alienating it. And calling 1/3 of the public racist isn't going to play well.

CrispyRice said...

Andrew, I'm reading your article and screaming, "SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP" at my computer monitor.

Please don't put information like this out there for just anyone to read!! ;)

AndrewPrice said...

Don't worry Crispy, it's too late for Obama to get it right. They've lost their credibility for the next several decades.

Plus, liberals never listen to advice any ways. ;-)

BevfromNYC said...

But that is what Dem leadership keeps missing - Why would I cast my vote for any candidate (or party) who thinks so little of me that they dismiss me as an idiot and call me nasty names in public and on national television for all the world to see??? Even the Whitehouse joins in the fun. How more politically stupid can these people get??

But, from the beginning, the Repubs have at the very least feigned interest and respect, though some are trying to outright hijack the movement (which btw is not appreciated one bit by many TP'ers).

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, You have just put your finger on what seems like common sense, but is by no means common among the Democrats. They seem to think that if they find the right collection of insults, the Tea Party will just go away. It never occurs to them to listen to the public or to take their concerns seriously. Talk about a plan to alienate the public!

I know what you mean about the Republicans. Some of them seem to think "hey, the Tea Party is this large, organized thing just waiting for a leader. I just need to go pretend to be one of them!" But that's not what the Tea Party is about.

In all truth, the Tea Party has played their hand brilliantly by remaining amorphous and unattached. That way everyone needs to listen to them and they don't have to pin down a set of demands which politicians can pretend to honor.

Moreover, with the Democrats leaving them to the Republicans, the Tea Party people are doing a great job of slowly taking over the Republican Party, and those Republicans who don't change (or don't fit) with the new order of things will be tossed out. We're seeing that nationwide where Tea Party-acceptable people are tossing out establishment candidates everywhere. And I think it's bringing great new blood to the party.

StanH said...

I hope you’re right Andrew. Some of the crap that Barry has foisted on us will take years to unwind. I pray that we can repeal this crap, maybe this time will be the exception to the rule, I am hopeful. Barry, and his team are incompetence personified, and I agree with you that he’ll be a one termer, but he is doing real damage. We’ll see how the worm turns!

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, There's no doubt that he's doing damage and it will take a concerted effort to undo it. But it could have been a lot worse. At least he was so blunt about his attack that the public has completely turned on him and even his own side no longer really supports him.

Imagine if he had managed to achieve similar things without turning off the public? Then we would limp along like this for 10-20 years until it became obvious what kind of damage he'd done.

Writer X said...

I think there were two things that many people hadn't counted on: Obama's enormous ego and a lack of intellect. I seriously believe his presidency will be remembered as even worse than Carter's. At least Carter seemed to care about his own country before himself.

Interesting post, Andrew! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, Thanks!

I agree completely. I think Obama will easily go down as the worst president we've had and it will be both sides blasting him. He has blown an amazing opportunity, and he blew it because of ego and incompetence, just as you say.

And I think it's only going to get worse for him because he's shown no indication that he has the kind of flexibility that is needed to recover from the kinds of mistakes he's made. Plus, with the Democratic moderates losing in the coming election, I suspect that he will be under intense pressure to move left. . . the worst thing he could do.

Doc Whoa said...

Really cool article. I haven't seen any body else take this topic. Do you really think he could have pulled off health care?

AndrewPrice said...

Doc Whoa, I'm glad you liked it. I always write about what I think is interesting, rather than just repeating what's on the news. This is one of those articles.

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