by Robert S. Becker
Scene: The Oval Office
Time: Daily briefing with senior staff
Speaker: The President, perplexed, pacing, nodding
Let’s talk politics today and re-election, no holds barred. I arrive here every morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, flush with my perpetual audacity of hope, but lately my dander is up. Maybe no one could preside over this fragmented country. But to hover at 40% approval — with our wave of legislative triumphs second in modern times to LBJ — and under greater duress? Who’d predict a year out our re-election would be in doubt – especially against this gang of has-beens, misfits, clowns, losers and wannabes? If I didn’t have my formidable self-esteem, I’d feel insulted [smiles, boyishly].
Look, I appreciate how staff plays to every audience, Tea Party aside – with a scattergun as wide as anything since Reagan. That’s what made the Gipper impressive, capturing men and women, old and young, the right, the center, and blue collar Democrats. Chockablock with anti-government fanatics Reagan never knew, we must still firmly stay the course we set from Day One – talk Democratic, rule Republican.
Talk about a tightrope presidency, staking out the center yet besieged by extremes. When will grumbling leftwingers get why my being against the “dumb” Iraq war meant being gungho in Afghanistan? Push-pull is the key, encouraging whatever wide voter projections fit our Rorschach regime. Don’t critics appreciate our finesse, taking multiple sides on major issues while deflecting attacks for flip-flopping? Eat your heart out, Mitt.
Yet we announce the Holy Grail – withdrawal of U.S. troops from that interminable Iraqi quagmire – and it barely ripples our positives. Isn’t successful withdrawal from a dumb war a win, at least politically? Our balancing act is intact — delivering a pro-peace, anti-war credo while executing a pro-peace, pro-war agenda. Likewise, we promote strong government stimulus, like a good Democrat, while assailing big deficits, a Republican talking point. Who else wants to tax millionaires plus relieve everyone else – or pitches a modest jobs program knowing the House will never pass it? Finesse is having it both ways without getting stung — or having to say you’re sorry.
Being For It – and Against It
As Clinton proved twice, and we once, ideological fixations don’t win national elections. Our White House stay depends on regaining centrists – and that means pillaging Republicans for knee-jerk, out-of-touch orthodoxy. Not a hard task – after all, their notion of political debate is which absurd flat tax they like best; or how high the wall with Mexico should be; or what terrifying yet non-threatening country we must bomb next. Our core principles are unchanged: we stay devoutly non-ideological, in short seeming everything to everybody. Here, friends, is my credo – we’re not red states, not blues states but only states that could go Democratic [smiles].
Is it a mystery why we campaigned sharply against Bush rights violations, but in office had to match, even outdo him? Talk left, go right, and never look back. Doesn’t the left appreciate that knocking off a few bad guys shows how tough we are? And terminating our own untried citizens, like with western film shootout, shows we’re as tough as Cheney. Anything but looking “soft on crime,” like Kerry or Dukakis, or “soft on terrorists.” What excites Americans — clear war cries against a looming enemy, not espionage or subterranean police work in alleys. Why, we’re bold enough to take on liberal sacred cows – one week defending Social Security and Medicare, the next week cutting billions to save the country from budget Armageddon.
Item: need to countermand the “Obama campaign betrayals” mantra, justifying our compromises as positive, American pragmatism serving the majority. Romney shows it’s better to be maligned as a socialist – easy to disprove that – than branded an unprincipled flip-flopper – impossible to disprove. Perry, too, cornered himself, endorsing a heinous immigration stance that outrages the far right and moderate Hispanics. Yikes, these guys never studied my favorite mythological figure, the two-headed Janus who looks in two directions without blinking.
Item: need to get more credit for overseas gains. Dramatic wins – like shooting down bin Laden, decimating terrorists with drones, and especially dethroning hated dictators – must be translated into homefield political leverage. You’d think 9/11 would have convinced voters the USA is not the whole world. And wars are passé. Fortunately, we’re running out of invasion sites so let’s optimize the cards we’ve been dealt.
Back-door Decoy Play
Item: need to offset nonsense we’re “unfriendly to business.” Right, with government loans, contracts, credits, subsidies, deficit war spending and research grants? Any more corporate-friendly, and I’d get listed on a dozen corporate boards [another big smile]. One positive to the OWS is we can stop badgering banks, oil companies, and rich people as the enemy. Why risk our capital when protesters make the same point? We state we “fully understand” public anger without getting too close, risking embarrassment. Good timing: the perfect backdoor decoy play.
Item: need environmental wins before the election. Luckily, we’re holding our own, despite letting BP run its own Gulf clean-up, adding new roads to log public lands, lowering EPA pollution measures, while approving new offshore permits plus the Canada-Oklahoma pipe line. With Republicans seizing the unfeeling, predatory Robber Baron role, gagging on any regulations, all we need are a few splashy headlines next year. Maybe a new national park, or national forest, more alternative energy programs to shore up our anti-global warming creds. No one matches environmentalists for cheering when only handed crumbs.
Finally, we must prepare for a curious problem – that this presidency could be tarnished, made ordinary, by debating the likes of Herman Cain or Rick Perry. Remember how VP Biden evoked sympathy for Palin, surviving all that winking, smirking, and dismissing questions. It’s challenging for those of us who know things to debate know-nothing amateurs without appearing condescending, so let’s work up strategies here. We all know none of us here suffer fools lightly, unless they’re in the cabinet already [smiles]. But with luck and enough campaign cash – plus as competition a buffoon or a Romney jammed into an ideological straightjacket – I still like our chances. We own the bully pulpit, after all.