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Just Plug the Damn HOLES, Mr. President

Finally, bipartisanship.

President Obama is frustrated by the continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and he reportedly exclaimed to his aides in the Oval Office, “Just plug the damn hole.” A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds large numbers of Americans are frustrated with President Obama and with both political parties in Congress. The message is the same, only amplified: “Just plug the damn holes.”

According to the CBS poll, the holes include:

• “Just 13 percent say Mr. Obama's economic programs, among them the massive economic stimulus package, have helped them personally. Eighteen percent say they have [been] hurt, while two in three say there has been no effect.”

• “Fifty-nine percent say Wall Street has undue influence in Washington, and a majority says the stock market unfairly benefits the rich; most oppose the government bailouts for banks and automakers, though they back support for struggling homeowners. Eight in ten say the economy is in bad shape.”

• “The percentage that says Mr. Obama shares their priorities has fallen to 45 percent, a drop of 13 points from October. The percentage who says he does not has risen to 47 percent, up from 38 percent seven months ago.”

• “Opinions of both parties, meanwhile, are at or near historic lows: 55 percent of those surveyed hold unfavorable views of Republicans, and 54 percent hold unfavorable views of Democrats.”

• “Looking ahead, one in two Americans say that life for the next generation will be worse than it is now, up from 32 percent last March. Just one in five expects it to be better.”

Management author Michael LeBoeuf once wrote that “In general, people exchange their hard-earned money for only two kinds of benefits: good feelings and solutions to problems.”

LeBoeuf’s commercial formula applies to the political dynamic today if you count “money” both literally and in the other form of currency most valued in campaigning—votes. Frustration and pessimism are driving people either to or away from candidates and the ballot box.

Politicians who succeed in office or who gain it will be those who can generate good feelings and sell solutions to problems involving hot button issues. At a local level those issues will vary. At a national level, according to a recent Rasmussen poll, the issues rated “very important” among likely voters are: government ethics/corruption and the economy (both at 83%), national security/war on terror (68%), health care (66%), Social Security (64%), education and immigration (63%), taxes (58%), the war in Iraq (45%) and abortion (42%).

An additional variable in any election is personality. Likability is always a strong asset (what remains of it with President Obama continues to save him from even worse approval ratings). But as the president (and other politicians) are finding, likability and trust are intimately bound together with the mood of the public so cynical and sour.

The CBS poll concluded that, “Seven in ten Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in Washington, including 22 percent who say they are ‘angry’ about the situation.” Given this brew of frustration, anger and pessimism a few warnings apply to both political parties and their leaders."

Hope is not a strategy. Luck is not a plan. Criticism alone is not a motivator. Incumbency is not a safe harbor.

The American people are fed up with excuses. They want problems fixed. “Just plug the damn holes.”

This will be a “results or revenge” election year. Don’t just tell me that things will get better. Show me how you’ll do it. Give me roadmaps, not rhetoric.

Change will mean that you’ve either done it right or you’re done.

Voters in particular will only turn on and turn out for a politician according to LeBoeuf’s formula in reverse order. “Solutions to problems and good feelings” are enduring political watchwords, but with particular resonance in 2010.

Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net.

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Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net. He is a consultant to corporate and political leaders including Steve Forbes.