By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
For Bill Clinton, "It's the economy, stupid" was the theme he rode to electoral victories in 1992 and 1996. For Barack Obama, it's "Change We Can Believe In," and he's being urged to hurriedly revive his 2008 slogan in advance of this fall's midterm elections. The reason: While voters want the change Obama promised last year, the prez is having a hard time proving that his agenda is what voters ordered. And Republicans are feeding their worries about joblessness, debt, and bureaucratic growth. "If Republicans are able to continue to better speak to the real angst and in some cases anger out there in middle America and drive our historical negative narrative about big and out-of-control government, we are dead," warns Obama campaign pollster Cornell Belcher.
But the message man with the golden touch is a long way from throwing in the towel and has a blueprint for the Democrats to stave off a November defeat. His solution for Obama: Don't whine about bad polls, take the moral high ground, and brag that you had the courage to sacrifice political standing to push through healthcare reform and "really big transformative things that move the country forward."
Democrats say the enemy is angry fringe groups, like antitax tea party organizers, who threaten to whip up anti-Obama fervor. "My point is that there are strong emotions on the left and middle also, and we have to take back patriotism from the fringe elements in our society and call on its better angels to rally the country around a common good instead of further angrily dividing it. We have to give direction or vehicle to the angst of middle America, or those fringe elements will," says Belcher.
He holds up Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy as examples. LBJ pushed for civil rights over opposition from elements of his party, and JFK answered Americans anxious over Sputnik with his call to fly to the moon. Obama-styled "change," the pollster tells Whispers, remains the answer.
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.