Dear Mr. President,
You described the turn of events in Tuesday's mid-term elections as a "shellackin'." The Republicans have claimed victory and a rejection of your policies, Speaker-Elect Boehner has declared himself the new sheriff in town, and Speaker Pelosi is pondering her future.
Were this about any of you personally, your collective opinions might matter. But they don't because it's not about any of you, your parties, or the normal shift of power that happens during the midterms.
It's the economy, Mr. President, plain and simple. Oh, and some better communication, too. At the risk of being brash, let me, as the young kids say, break it down for you, Mr. President.
With all due respect, Mr. President, when people were losing their jobs and their homes, you failed to make the case clear as to why bailing out the Wall Street whackjobs was going to make Michael and Mary Middle-Class or Wendell and Wanda Working-Poor any better off. Bailing out AIG, BofA, and Goldman didn't translate into apparent gains for the middle class and the working poor. Sure, you probably staved off having the entire world economy go off the cliff, but you never clearly answered the gut-level, self-interested, Adam Smith-esque question on every financially terrorized taxpayer's mind -- "What's in it for me?" You simply failed to connect the dots or show your work in this transitive equation. Plus, you didn't dot your I's and cross your T's to make sure that the bailed-out banks that were "too big to fail" were also required to start lending again and to start modifying the very mortgages that got them in this hot mess in the first place. And when Goldman was getting zero interest loans from the Fed and turning around to buy t-bills, basically pimping the government that helped them, I know I felt like a piece of taxpayer tail. I'm sure other hard-working, tax-paying Americans did, too.
Second, you failed to make people who were losing their jobs and their homes understand why health care was such a high priority that it had to be dealt with first before the economy got back on track. Sure, you passed the stimulus, but you got so bogged down in the health care debate that you failed to again connect the dots as to when, where and how the stimulus would work. With unemployment higher now then when you took office, you no longer get to blame your predecessor --even if it is his fault -- because things got worse on your watch. I'm to blame, too, as I got caught up in health care reform fever and the idea of what could be accomplished, and I did so from the comfort of a secure job, albeit one with wage cuts. But health care reform isn't and wasn't a priority to folks who don't have jobs and don't have homes, especially when no emergency room is ever going to turn them away if they're in dire straits.
Third, you failed to communicate consistently and substantively about your accomplishments. Frankly, Mr. President, I think you assume a level of understanding that's over the head of most of the people you lead. Sure, you need the facts and figures to back up your assertions, but you need to speak simply, plainly, and consistently about the results you've achieved. When you face setbacks, as you have with unemployment, you need to do more than commiserate -- you need to state simply, plainly and consistently what you're going to do differently when confronted with bad results.
Fourth, you didn't take the Tea Party seriously until it was too late. I live in Tea Party Central, and I have friends and neighbors in the Tea Party. They know I'm a liberal Democrat, and on local issues, we are actually in agreement -- local governments have to be fiscally conservative because they don't print their own money. You needed to not only respect the Tea Party but address their concerns early and head on, as well as confront their policy inconsistencies -- like opposing health care reform as Socialist but not wanting to lose Medicare or Social Security -- in a consistent and respectful manner. And you needed to ask this very important question: What would you do differently, and how would that accomplish the goal of lowering spending and reducing the deficit? I get along with Tea Partyiers for two reasons: One, I'm respectful and admit they do have some valid points, because they do; and Two, I have the luxury you don't have -- I don't have to engage them on issues of national policy. I'm able to agree with them on local issues. Maybe you need to find some issues -- ANY ISSUES -- with which you can agree with them and make peace. If they fail to meet you halfway in finding solutions to the nation's problems, then that reflects on them, not you. Perhaps you should have just the newly-elected Tea Party candidates to the White House for -- what else -- tea?
Fifth, you failed to keep the momentum of your campaign going. You got all these new young voters and unlikely voters to the polls, and then you hunkered down with the usual wonks and pols and didn't use them, didn't call them until the midterms came around. Pardon my language, Mr. President, but you made the movement you created in 2008 into an electoral booty call. The problem with a booty call is that you can't call two years later asking for another one. By that time, the other person has moved on. So did your youth vote and your unlikely voters.
Finally, you forgot that you are a black man in America. There are people out there who want to see you fail just because of that and the fact that they believe you're not entitled to what you have because of your Ivy League pedigree that they don't have. As you know, politics is all about relationships, and maybe you need to be more accessible and overcome the latent prejudices I know some of our political leaders may have by simply getting to know folks better. Quite frankly, when I voted for you for president of the Harvard Law Review, I thought you were kinda aloof then, but since the Law Review tries to appear to be a meritocracy, it didn't matter -- you were able to win on the sheer strength on your intellect. And, quite frankly, I hated Law Review and was pretty aloof myself. Well, Mr. President, the nation isn't a meritocracy -- in fact, we embody the "tall poppy" syndrome of our neighbors south of the equator and enjoy taking down in size the folks who are smarter than we are, especially if we believe their good fortune is undeserved. People can oppose you as a smart-ass Ivy League elite when in fact they despise you because of your race, and they can find common ground with those who despise you because you appear to be a smart-ass Ivy League elite. That's why Republicans are doing the happy dance on a whole host of fronts. That's why Bill Clinton never played the "Rhodes Scholar" card in public -- he understood that he had to get along to go along and not to appear as smart as he was. In other words, instead of appearing to be a tall poppy, he chose to embrace being a Bubba poppy in public. With all due respect, stop being a tall poppy and start being the likable poppy.
But net-net, as my best friend says, you gotta get people back to work. Co-opt the Republicans' plans to do this if you must, but if people aren't back to work soon, all of you in Washington will be turned out in 2012. It's the economy, Mr. President, plain and simple. It's not personal when people don't have any money. They'd vote for a goat if it had a workable economic plan.
Mr. President, I would really like to see you have a second term because, more than any other president in my lifetime, I think you understand that the decisions you make have to be good for the country for generations to come and not just for the next election cycle. I believe the Democratic Party and Speaker Pelosi believe the same. But if you don't get people back to work, you won't have the privilege of making the long-term decisions for our country's best interests. I think that if you take these points under advisement and plan accordingly, you can have a second term. You're not the first president to get shellacked during the midterms. This is your challenge, and I believe you can rise above it.
Black Woman Blogging
P.S. Could you also get a consistent policy on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? If you don't support it, let it die, no matter how it gets killed.
P.P.S. Please tell Speaker Pelosi to man up . . . uh, I mean, woman up. As my mom used to say, "We all get knocked down in life. And you can lie there for a little while. But then you have to get back up." If she allows this defeat to keep her down, she's going to take a generation of future women leaders with her.