5 lessons Obama can learn from ‘the first black president’…

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(ThyBlackMan.com) President Obama will meet with former President Clinton today for reasons that go beyond the mounting furor and looming Congressional stalemate over the tax cut deal he brokered with the GOP. Clinton’s presidency by many measures was a success, and much of that success was due to the fact that he faced the same kind of crisis, push back and outright warfare from the GOP that Obama faces. But he still has a record full of legislative victories. There are invaluable lessons to be learned from how he accomplished that feat.

Lesson Number One: Play to Democratic Party strengths. Those strengths are well known; talk more jobs, more funding for health care and higher wages for more Americans. Obama has done all of that. The problem is that the message has been twisted, maligned, or ignored by the GOP echo chamber. Clinton took the message on each of these crucial policy points, simplified it, continued to repeat it, and then in a page torn squarely out of Harry Truman’s playbook turned the tables back on the GOP and painted them as the do-nothing, retrograde, obstructionists that were dragging the economy down and the middle and the working class with it.

Lesson Number Two: Clinton dispelled the deep, pervasive, and self-defeating perception that the Democratic Party had swerved too far to the left and had ignored the needs of middle and working class whites. This non-racial, centrist pitch did not threaten or alienate the white middle-class, and was plainly designed to blunt the standard Republican rap that Democrats pander to special interests, i.e. minorities.

Obama has tried that tact, but the reason it hasn’t been as effective is not solely because of race — he’s black, Clinton’s white — but because Obama did not make this a unitary theme in his fight against the tax cuts for the wealthy. The message should have been that the tax cut extension for working people will put dollars in their pocket, create more jobs, and not jeopardize spending on vital programs. In other words, Clinton personalized that message, and it worked.

Lesson Number Three: Clinton correctly recognized that the Democrats had been beaten to the punch so often by the Republicans that millions of Americans felt alienated, and frustrated at the Democrats failure to present an alternative program for middle-America. The Democrats had simply failed to see that times and the public mood had changed. The Republicans had capitalized on it and parlayed their frustration into victory after victory, up to an including tightening its lock on the White House.

Clinton had to package the fight back against the GOP in a non-confrontational, nor divisive way that stripped it of the emotionalism that played into the GOP’s hands and permitted it to continue to pulverize them as irresponsible, tax and spend politicians. Clinton’s blueprint had it both ways. It presented a directional shift toward centrist politics that would not lose its key constituencies, blacks, Latinos, and women. That worked. It became the much sought after template in the Democrats approach to winning many state and local elections and to win over conservative middle-class whites, moderates and independents.

Lesson Number Four: Compromise, but compromise in such a way that the compromise doesn’t just squeeze the best deal an embattled president can get out of the warlike GOP enemy. Obama did that. But spin it as a victory not only for Americans but for the Democratic Party as well. Clinton made sure that the Democratic leadership knew every step of the way what the stakes were in the war with the GOP and made sure that they were behind him.

He effectively neutralized most of the hard line ultra liberals. Obama hasn’t been able to do that. The initial rejection by a majority of House Democrats of the tax cut deal and the screams of betrayal and sell-out from many of them show that the president didn’t do his homework a la Clinton with his own party as thoroughly as he could or should have.

Lesson Number Five: Don’t under any circumstances alienate your base. Clinton was pounded by progressive and liberal activists as GOP lite, and a closet Republican. But the bashing and hectoring never got to the point where progressives and ultra liberal Democrats threatened mass defections to a third party or said pox on the Democrat’s house. Though Clinton did take swipes at his party and activist critics, he picked his spots. Obama tongue lashed Democratic opponents of the tax cut deal as “sanctimonious” and “purists” before the first congressional vote was taken on it. He was certainly right. The deal was the best that he could have gotten against impossible political odds. But the fight isn’t over, and there will be other battles including over the tax cut deal, and he’ll need every ally he can get. Those allies sure as heck won’t come from the GOP.

Clinton stands out as a Democratic president who withstood withering attacks from the GOP and occasionally allies but still got things done. Obama’s done the same. But there are still lessons that Clinton can impart and I bet Obama will take good notes during his talk with Clinton at the White House.

Written By Earl Ofari Hutchinson