For the last couple of days, President Obama has been defending his deal with Republican Congressional leaders on the tax cuts. After taking a lot of heat from the media, the blogosphere and elsewhere (little if any of that criticism from the right), he’s been complaining about criticism from his own base. That is to say, the people who worked for him, donated to him, voted for him, and have continually defended him over the past 3-4 years from the earliest stages of his candidacy to the present.
I wish to say this to President Obama:
Mr. President, your frustration and even anger at your base (and I think you used the word “sanctimonious” in that context) may be perfectly understandable from your point of view but, like it or not, perception is reality.
If your opponents crow that they pretty much got everything they wanted, your base feels that you caved too early, and the media keep saying that your conceding too much too soon in your negotiations with your opponents, then that perception is the reality, whether you agree or not.
It is my opinion that the 2010 mid-term elections did not repudiate you and did not repudiate your policies. Rather, the voters were telling you that, at the least, they repudiated what they perceived you and the Democrats were doing, and the way they perceived you were doing it. And make no mistake, you are the Democratic Party. As its titular head, you are the party’s face, and the party stands or falls by how you are perceived. If the last election proved nothing else, it proved that.
You have said that Ronald Reagan was a transformative president, and in many ways he was. His tax policies, economic strategies and spending priorities did not necessarily make him a great or even a good president. In fact, he may have set this country on a long-term course to ruin, but he has been perceived to be a great president both during his term and since, and he transformed perceptions of his party and its policies for the long-term. History may (and I think will) judge him differently from the manner in which he has been perceived, just as history may judge you differently from the manner in which you are currently perceived, but perception of you now is still your reality now.
Mr. President, don’t be angry at your base, and don’t insult your base. You need them. That’s why they’re called your base! Instead, rethink how you present yourself, your ideas, your public pronouncements and your persona. If your policies are right, and if you are confident that they are right, then you must sell them in a way that they are perceived as being right, and so that you are perceived as having fought hard for the very best deal you could without being perceived as ‘caving’.
You may perceive what I’m saying as sanctimonious and even politically naive, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
Of course, perception is reality. You may perceive me as being wrong, just as your base perceives you as being weak.
Don’t get mad at your base, Mr. President. Either change your leadership style or change the perception of your leadership style. Either way, the alternatives for you, the Democratic Party and the whole nation are almost too terrible to contemplate.
You’re one of the smartest presidents this country has ever had. Learn. We’re counting on you.