Bring Some Shock and Awe to Obama’s Domestic Agenda

Obama needs to bring the same fervor to selling his economic plan that he has to taking military action in Syria.

President Barack Obama speaks about the economy and Syria during a news conference Friday, Sept. 6, 2013,  at the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
President Obama said he was elected to end wars, not start them, while speaking about Syria and the economy on Friday at the G-20 Summit.

Media reports portray a White House in battle mode. There are 7:45 a.m. meetings with "due outs" for participants to accomplish throughout the day. Relevant staffers have been tasked with media appearances.  The chief of staff did all five morning shows on Sunday and the president hit the airwaves with network interviews Monday evening. Speechwriters are working through final drafts of a primetime address to be delivered tonight.

Surely White House staffers don't relish the prospect of military strikes against Syria and the resulting carnage that may ensue, but being in a fight to win congressional passage of an important White House priority that pulls so many parts of the building together with a central purpose must make the blood rush. This kind of focus makes staffers who normally drag out of bed leap up in the morning thinking of new ideas for building support for the president's plan. There are high stakes phone calls to congressional leaders and appearances before influential stakeholders.

Except for the re-election campaign, reporters say the administration hasn't had this kind of activity since the health care fight of 2009-10. That was three and a half years ago.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Whatever happens with Syria, there is no reason the president and his staff and allies can't feel like this again. There is still time for Team Obama to accomplish at least one additional big goal that can unify his base and appeal to moderates of both parties.

The New York Times reported last week that a Tennessee mechanic hunted deer, doves and squirrels to supplement the food stamps he received to feed his family.  Meanwhile, the Republicans want to cut this aid to families to help lower the national deficit.

At Morehouse College, the John Hopps, Jr. Defense Research Scholars Program once had 100 young black men studying hard sciences, with 75 percent of them going on to graduate school. Because of cuts in funding from the Defense Department, last year they awarded nine scholarships and this year none. More broadly, the United Negro College Fund says 28,000 students at historically black colleges and 400,000 nationwide are being denied funding for college because of changes to the Parent Plus loan program. (The administration says it will make changes, but advocates are not convinced.)

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

The unemployment rate has ticked down to 7.3 percent, but the number of people in the workforce is at its lowest level in 35 years. Too many people are discouraged and African-American unemployment is still almost twice as high as that of whites.

Americans are still in distress and the president should marshal all of the assets of his office to fight for the people on the losing end of the economic stick with the same verve he showed fighting for the right to attack Syria.  

We know the president cares. In 2011, he proposed the American Jobs Act, and this summer at Knox College he made a pivot toward "A Better Bargain" for the middle class, followed by a tour of the country pushing ideas like an increase in the minimum wage. He has also proposed universal pre-K and a push to wire 99 percent of schools and libraries with high-speed broadband through his ConnectED program.

But where is the shock and awe we have seen in the last days on Syria when it comes to fixing our domestic problems?  We need Cabinet members testifying. Imagine the Secretary of Agriculture sounding like Secretary of State John Kerry: "Senator, have you not seen the images of hungry children and distressed parents at the end of the month when food assistance has run out? If not, maybe you should come to the private briefing so I can show you the evidence!"

[See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

We need a primetime address with the president laying out his vision to include more citizens in American growth. There should be dinners with Republican Senators and meetings with moderate Democrats. The president should go to the Hill and talk to the party caucuses. Fan the cabinet out across the country and give experts the platform of the White House to make the case.

If the president sends a bill to the Hill and it gets voted down, keep sending it. The Republicans have taken more than 40 votes to defund health care reform. Make them take those votes to deny more economic benefits to working class Americans.

It's clear the president cares about bolstering the economic futures of Americans and investing in young people for the future. He talks about it often. Now that we have been reminded what a focused White House acts like, the president should use the same energy and focus for his domestic agenda.

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