The election is a month away, and it's time for a serious democratic "course correction" (which is Washington-speak for "What we’ve been doing isn't working, so let's change strategy.") Rumor has it that since the summer the White House has been working on a super-secret strategy memo with a plan to turn things around. If I were still on the White House staff, these would be my recommendations:
1. Change the rules and change the players. President Obama's central promise to those of us who voted for him was that he would change the way Washington worked. Instead, he proceeded to do business with exactly the same people who had been there in past administrations, and more importantly, he allowed them to do business in exactly the same way. The bankers are still in charge of the banks, they are just different bankers. He needs to stop doing business with the same people in the same old Washington way. In order to have a successful presidency, he needs to go back and remember the core reason people liked him in the first place.
2. Appoint a new National Economic Council director who understands working people to send a message that they come first. The president seems to be taking Wall Street and media elite advice seriously that he must appoint someone from the business community (or someone who “understands” their concerns) as his next head of the National Economic Council to replace Larry Summers. In fact, he should do the exact opposite.
He should pick someone who understands the plight of working people and the unemployed, which would send a message that he gets it. My choice would be former Clinton Labor Secretary and University of California/Berkley economist Robert Reich, who says, “As long as income and wealth keep concentrating at the top, and the great divide between America's have-mores and have-lesses continues to widen, the Great Recession won't end -- at least not in the real economy.”
3. Pull Out of Afghanistan. Almost nobody thinks we can "win" this war -- certainly not by doing what we are now doing. It's a waste of money and of lives. We seem to be sticking around just to find a face-saving exit strategy. It's not worth it. There are better strategies for our war on terror -- and they are all cheaper. We can't afford the luxury of sticking around in Afghanistan just to save face.
4. End the discharges under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Obama promised he would do this and led us to believe he considered it a moral imperative. Even though only Congress can change the actual law, the president can place a temporary moratorium on discharges in the interest of national security. Even smarter would be to not appeal the recent Federal Court ruling declaring Don't Ask Don't Tell unconstitutional, and thus being done with this once and for all. Obama said that he would stand for individual constitutional rights and now seems more interested in placating a Pentagon timetable. His supporters are furious and have every reason to be.
5. Admit error, get angry and don't be above selling. It's time to admit that some mistakes have been made. People will appreciate it. Democrats are living in a dream world if they don't get this.
And the president needs to show some anger. Republicans have done a brilliant job distorting his policies. The White House sometimes acts if they believe they are "too good" to have to sell the merits of their policies. But that's what politics is all about. You can't be above selling. You need to be selling all the time.
Obama needs to make the argument that people should be with him because he has the right vision of our hopeful future.
Richard Socarides is an attorney and former White House Special Assistant to President Clinton.