Well, the election’s finally over, and so is my self-imposed absence. It’s been a while since I posted, having been distracted by a mix of work, sloth, and mute fascination with the spectacle of two candidates defining themselves and each other almost solely in terms of how much (or little) each differs from the Bush Administration.
Understandable, of course, given the abysmal ratings of the President. But since Congress has approval rates nearly as bad (or worse), I’d kindly like to give the President-Elect a few words of unsolicited advice:
- 1) You’ve got an historic opportunity—Don’t blow it!
Whether we voted for you or not, we’re all tired of the partisan rhetoric and constant sniping, we’re all deeply concerned (read: terrified) by the economic issues ahead of us, and we’re all hopeful that your administration will figure out a way to move forward. So you’ve got an opportunity to truly be a President for the whole nation. But only if you really want to be. If you do:
- 2) Rule from the center.
This isn’t the advice of an embittered conservative or dejected McCain fan, this is simply the only way to really run the country effectively. This isn’t a Progressive country, nor even a liberal country. For that matter it’s not a far right country either. It’s a center-right country, in which broad majorities believe in individual responsibility, the free market, small business, and low taxes. That’s not to say that you can’t win support for reform in areas, but massive expansions of socialism will not be well-received in the long run. The appointment of your cabinet staff and economic advisors so far is a great start, and one I hope continues. If you want to do well, continue to play to the broad majority, not the partisan base lurking in the shadows. To help do that:
- 3) Make the right use of your political allies.
Take Nancy Pelosi, for example. Some will tell you to rely on her advice, and others will point out that’s she basically an idiot (or possibly a muppet, it’s hard to be certain). But only I will tell you the sure and certain way to turn Nancy Pelosi into a solid asset with no downside. And it’s simple: whenever you’re really, really excited about some new idea but have a nagging suspicion that the idea, however exciting, may also be insanely stupid, simply run it past Pelosi. If she embraces the idea enthusiastically, it is stupid, and you should discard it immediately. If she opposes the idea on ideological grounds, then it may or may not be stupid, it’s simply not progressively stupid. If she looks at you wide-eyed in bemusement, then the idea is beyond her mental capabilities and you’ll need to re-run the test with Vice President Biden or Senator Reid. And don’t forget to:
- 4) Make the right use of your political enemies.
At first this might seem tricky, since you can’t really consider McCain and his crowd your political enemies, now can you? He really is the Alan Alda to your Jimmy Smits, and most of the RINOs in that group are secretly delighted at the possibility of raising taxes and opening the spending floodgates even wider. But those aren’t the enemies I’m speaking about. You can make use of the actual Republicans as well, particularly the more conservative ones. Take a page from the master himself, and emulate Bill Clinton in cherry-picking the best conservative ideas, repackaging them, and selling them as a new plan for “responsible government” (hey if Bush can use “compassional conservatism”…). Hammer the health insurance industry on their anti-free-market attitude (nobody likes them anyway). Nail the lovers of earmarks, Republicans and Democrats alike. Take the populists and isolationists to task on free trade, pointing out how tariffs hurt the poor around the world (and coincidentally make us poorer too). Do this, and you’ll confuse the Republicans and their base, especially because you’ll be doing more than their own party’s done for years. So be clear that:
- 5) Government can’t fix everything—Make that clear every day!
As a progressive you want to believe in the power of government to fix problems, but as a former community activist, you know the reality: things often suck, but the government typically sucks even more. There are few, if any, things that government can do better than the private sector. (Though there are things, like defense, that we just really don’t want the private sector doing.) Embrace the great truth our Founders knew: government is always an evil, simply often a necessary evil. But within that truth, you can stress your plans to make government as little an evil and as great an asset as possible. That’s a message most Americans can believe in—and those who can’t are your core supporters anyway! Best of all, when your administration falls short, as they all do, you can simply point out that you’ve been skeptical of the power of government all along!
Do these simple things, and you’ll be a new Bill Clinton, but with a loving (if America hating) wife, beautiful children, and (we all hope) fewer (or more attractive) mistresses. And, with a bit of luck, you’ll get to preside over yet another economic boom that turns into a bubble that has the good grace to burst at the beginning of your successor’s first term rather than at the end of your second!
More importantly, and more seriously, you’ll be able to preside over a country finally healing the division of 2000, since, unlike your progressive base, most Republicans really are willing to give you half a chance and really will judge you on your results rather than your ideological background. Since the progressives will never quite be able to hate you, by being a President for all Americans you’ll finally bring the unity we always say we want, but never actually do anything to achieve! Or, at least, that’s my profound hope. In the meantime, congratulations on your victory, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America!