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First Piece: Mr. President, It's Clear You've Made an Important Strategic Error

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Headlined to H2 8/23/09


For the past five years, I've seen America as a nation in crisis --a crisis that, at its core, I perceive as a moral and spiritual battle, indeed a battle best understood as between Good and Evil-- and sometimes I feel that I SEE things clearly. This weekend brought one of those occasions: a vision showing where Obama has taken the wrong path, and how he can get back on track.

I continue to believe --to hold as a conviction-- that Obama is deeply aligned with the Good. But I believe he's made a fundamental misjudgment in the political strategy he's employed most recently in this health-care-reform process but more generally also since Inauguration.

In the coming days, in a multi-part open letter to the president, I will declare what I believe is Obama's principle strategic mistake. I will describe how I imagine it happened that he made it. I will propose the general transformation I think is called for on how Obama plays his role as president. And I will lay out several ideas about how he can proceed from here --both with respect to health care, and in other ways-- to make the turn and achieve that transformation into a more powerful and more effective president.

In this first piece, I provide a kind of preamble: a description of the basis on which I now feel pretty certain that Obama has made a serious misjudgment-- in this health care reform struggle, but also more generally in his presidency.


Dear Mr. President,

It's not just because I've been an enthusiastic fan of yours that I've been hesitant until now to say you've made an importantly wrong strategic choice. It's been mostly because two factors have made it seem foolish for me to presume to make such a judgment.

One of those factors is that following your strategic judgment has proven so amazingly successful in the past. Going from where you were in, say, 2002, to becoming President of the United States --as a black man with only four years of experience in national politics-- suggests a capacity for strategic judgment that is beyond superior.

The other factor that inhibited me is that the political battlefield is so extremely complex, and your strategies seemed often so subtle in their weighing of different factors and in playing for long-term outcomes, that I felt unable to discern what all the calculations and plans you might be interweaving in your specific decisions.

So, while I've expressed some concerns and doubts, I've never felt able to say with real conviction that you were making a mistake and that I can offer you some counsel that you would be wise to heed.

Until now. Now it seems clear almost beyond doubt that you've made a major strategic mistake.

The evidence for the mistake lies in the current health-care struggle. But when I look at where you seem to have erred in that struggle, it seems clear that the basic mistake in that arena is a manifestation of a more general mistake you've made about how to play your role as president.

In subsequent pieces in this series, I'll describe that general mistake and I'll also prescribe a few courses of action --both on the specifics of the health care issue, and more generally in re-casting your presidential role-- that can put you back on the path of fulfilling the enormous potential that millions of Americans, and millions elsewhere around the world, saw in your becoming president earlier this year.

But first, here's how it's become clear that you've misjudged how to play your presidential role in the health care debate:

Two pieces of the picture make this clear: 1) This health care reform issue is one on which you should have been able to completely kick ass in your battle with your opponents; 2) instead, out of this struggle, several months into it, you are losing power and your opponents are becoming ever bolder and more outrageous.

1) This issue is MADE for taking the high and impregnable ground. The health care crisis in America is a threat to so many vital interests and values of the nation as a whole, and of Americans as individuals and families and businesses, that a powerful president attempting constructive change should have been able to both shape and dominate the discussion. If this president's opponents had employed fear-mongering lies and obstructionist tactics, if they'd sacrificed the national and public interests in the quest for political advantage and in the service of those monied interests that enrich themselves off our present broken system-- if, in other words, a president who came into this struggle with your gifts and your power had done it right, those Republicans and right-wingers who have been assailing you should have been tarred and feathered by now, and run out of town on a rail.

Instead, it seems to have been you who has been injured the most by this conflict. You appear uncertain, unstead, on the defensive-- which is how a fighter in the ring looks when it's the other guy landing the blows.

If where things are now in the health care battle is where you hoped they'd be at this point, when you came up with your strategy, I'd be very surprised.

So it's clear that you've made a major strategic error here. A strategy that results in a draining away of your power, that has you on the defensive, is one that doesn't work.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. He is the author of various books including The Parable of the Tribes: The (more...)
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We all know that President Obama is a seasoned pol... by William Cormier on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 4:34:42 AM
Undoubtably. ... by WML on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 4:42:14 PM
as a pittiful misguided leader resembles the false... by Ernest on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 4:44:16 AM
Obama, as any politician, does not see the people ... by Dennis Kaiser on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 6:52:25 AM
I would like to ask the folks who justifiable thin... by Mark Sashine on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 7:55:46 AM
Does it matter whether the corporate class chose O... by WML on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 5:09:52 PM
Knowing at least the vocal part of this audience, ... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 8:42:04 AM
"For all I know, the views of those who are vocal ... by J. Edward Tremlett on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 1:11:29 PM
that I personally agree on the premise of the basi... by Mark Sashine on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 9:01:16 AM
Since you conceive of the basic "goodness" of Obam... by lenngray on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 11:58:53 AM
If you're ask also me....Four five years, I've bee... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 1:24:47 PM
In your 2005 "Concept of Evil" piece, you wrote:"S... by lenngray on Friday, Aug 28, 2009 at 8:21:03 PM
and if you look me up you will see what I wrote ab... by Mark Sashine on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 12:04:52 PM
If this were true, it would be easy to repair the ... by Caronome on Tuesday, Aug 25, 2009 at 12:53:54 AM
Is it not potentially authoritarian to say that a ... by Perry Logan on Tuesday, Aug 25, 2009 at 5:58:46 AM
Please continue with your synopsis of Obamalama an... by Ernest on Tuesday, Aug 25, 2009 at 11:41:50 AM