America’s relationship with President Obama is strained, to say the least. In the midterm elections on Tuesday, America told him that it’s time to take a break and see other people. Call it a trial separation.
Across the country, in nearly every demographic, nerves are frayed and tempers have flared. The passion from the first days of dating has cooled and some people can’t remember what they saw in him in the first place. And so they’ve decided to send a message – loudly.
There’s not even a courtesy thrown his way to soften the blow, as in “It’s not you, it’s me…” because it is, actually, about him – his policies, approach, tone and agenda.
Every midterm election is about the president. That was true of President Bush when he won seats in the 2002 midterms, and when he lost seats -- and his majority -- in 2006.
The sooner President Obama and his team recognize that, the better the chance is of reconciliation. If not, we could be headed for a permanent break-up.
So, as I asked here in Fox News Opinion in September, can this relationship be saved?
In a country where slightly more than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, it’s unlikely. But if there’s any hope of getting back together, here are 3 suggestions on what President Obama can do to repair the damage:
The election rhetoric in 2010 has been heated, but no more so than other elections. What has been different this time is the very personal attacks the president himself has leveled at others, which is one of the reasons this election is assuredly all about him – he helped make it so.
Contrary to what some Democrats are spinning, the onus for cooperation is not on the Republicans – that responsibility rests with the commander-in-chief.
He needs to be the one to extend the olive branch, even to apologize for some of the nastiness he encouraged. He did, after all, call the opposition party “enemies.” If he can rise above it, remind people to forgive and move on, he’ll have a chance of getting people to cooperate on the important issues in front of us.
And even if it doesn’t work with members of Congress, it would serve him well with the public at large.
2. Make a bold policy break
A lot of questions are being asked about what President Obama will do now, on Nov 3 now that his Party has suffered a major setback in the elections. Will he tack to the center, stick to the left, try to pass any major legislation, or just decide to hammer the GOP as the "Party of 'no'" for the next two years?
Since the election has been about his policies, in particular the health care law, he could do something shocking, such as agreeing to re-open the health care law and allow a constructive debate to improve it. Then see if he can get bipartisan cooperation this time. It would take swallowing a gallon of pride, but it could be the only way he gets people to back to supporting his health care plan.
He could also cave early on extending the tax cuts – he won’t win a long, drawn out tax fight, so why not just say at his press conference on Wednesday afternoon, “I’ve heard you, America – and in the interest of providing businesses the certainty they need going forward, and to avoid raising taxes in a recession, I will support a three-year extension.” This will take away one of the GOP’s best offensive point, and, well, it’s the right policy anyway.
President Obama has to take the first step -- he can’t just expect the opposition party to get in line, especially after their expected historic wins – he has to give them a reason to do it, something didn’t do last year.
3. Get America to laugh with him, not at him
A lot has been made about the disastrous appearance by the president on Jon Stewart's "Daily Show," and it’s probably good that it happened – because maybe it won’t happen again.
Instead of putting himself in situations that can bring ridicule, like an appearance on a late-night comedy show, the president should let down his guard a tad and crack a joke about himself – one that shows he gets it, he understands, that he’s able to take a punch and show some good-humored humility.
As most women say about their successful marriages – "he could always make me laugh."
We’ve not been laughing with him lately. Sure, the handpicked crowds may chuckle and hoot about the car in the ditch when they hear it for the umpteenth time, but for the rest of America it’s gotten old and annoying. He needs some fresh new material and a new attitude to go with it.
There’s no guarantee that these steps would win back America’s heart – but it’s worth a shot, isn’t it, to try to salvage the relationship?
Otherwise, we can expect that by 2012 we’ll have gone our separate ways with the hope that one day we’ll be friends.
Dana Perino currently serves as co-host of FOX News Channel's "The Five" (weekdays 5-6PM/ET). She previously served as Press Secretary for President George W. Bush. Ms. Perino joined the network in 2009 as a contributor. Click here for more information on Dana Perino.