Although President Obama enjoys a Democratic majority in both the Senate and House it is actually Republicans who keep delivering legislative victories to him.
On June 26, the House just barely passed Obama's controversial cap-and-trade global warming bill by a seven-vote margin (219-212). It was the 8 Republicans who voted for the bill who provided the margin of victory. Those Republicans are: Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Mike Castle (Del.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John McHugh (NY), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Leonard Lance (NJ), Dave Reichert (Wash/), and Chris Smith (NJ).
In February, Republicans were unable to filibuster against Obama's $787-billion stimulus package in the Senate because Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (who has since become a Democrat) denied Republicans the nay votes they needed.
When it comes to cap-and-trade, health care and Obama's next legislative target -- immigration reform -- can Republicans be any more united and effective? Possibly, but it will require some changes in their image and their communications.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel summed up Republicans' problems in April when he said, "When you're the party of no, when you're the party of never; when you're the party of no new ideas, that's not constructive. The challenge will be, will the Republicans come to the table with constructive ideas?"
Never mind the reality of Emanuel's charge; it is the perception that counts. How has Obama so quickly pushed through spending and legislation that Americans would normally recoil from? It is based on the perceptions that he "inherited" a mess left by Bush and the Republicans and that at least he's trying, he cares and he's doing something.
To counter that perception, Republicans need to stand it on its head and flip their way of communicating. They need to frame their arguments more in human terms and less in accounting terms. They need to use traditional Democratic language about choice, fairness, caring, helping and similar "heart" language and apply that to Republican ideas. They need to seem less like the party of "no way" and more like the party of a "better way." Finally, they need spokespersons who don't seem angry and scolding, but rather are calmly committed to cleaning up a mess being created by Obama and the Democrats.
This will take time. It is only slowly dawning on more and more Americans that Obama and the Democrats are sowing the seeds for a worse economic mess. It's also slowly seeping in that the vision of America held by Obama and the Democrats will fundamentally make a new America more like "old Europe."
In old Europe, government control replaced personal initiatives. National mindsets focused on dependency rather than enterprise. Labor power plays and bureaucratic intrusion crippled job creation and business development. "Green" environmental extremism raised the cost of basics like food and energy to onerous levels for the middle and lower classes. There was wealth confiscation rather than wealth creation. Special interest groups put all their efforts into gaming the legal and political systems while striving, success, competition and innovation withered.
The irony is that old Europe has evolved. While statism is far from dead there, we see many examples in Europe of moves away from the kind of government control and higher taxation that is the new pattern under Obama.
If Republicans want to stop delivering victories to Obama they need to paint a poignant picture of an America that risks a loss of its greatness, specialness and freedom. They need to rally the country with an opportunity agenda for the future as a substitute for the Democrats' regression to a discredited past. They need to make their cause restoring American power rather than Republican power. If they do that, supporters will seek out Republicans rather than Republicans having to seek supporters. And maybe even the fractious few Republicans in Congress will see the light (or at least feel the heat).
The Republican message needs to be inspiring rather than whining. Most importantly, Republicans need spokespersons who are models of candor and exemplary behavior: spokespersons who are credible, relatable, likable and serious without seeming humorless.
Americans have always loved a fight for a just cause. For Republicans to stop delivering victories to Obama they need to engage our country in a righteous fight to distinguish us from the sagging, pitiful regimes that marked old Europe and that Obama would return us to.
Old and stifling versus new and innovative, government control versus individual choice. These, and related messages, can enable Republicans to convert Obama's message of "yes, we can" to a different one that Republicans champion for the country: We can do better.
Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net.
Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net. He is a consultant to corporate and political leaders including Steve Forbes.