It's easy to attack a leader. And yet President Barack Obama says he wants input from Republicans. When I was politically active, including nationally, I was heavily involved on the GOP side of things. So here's a constructive memorandum to the president. It's based on both experience and on some of the nonpartisan polls our firm conducts.
It's intended to explore the reasons Obama's approval ratings are dipping and what he can do to prevent a disastrous four years in office. I know he won't read it, but I'm writing it as if he will — that is, as fairly and professionally as I can.
Americans are scared stiff about a host of issues, including job security, credit availability, home values, international threats, even the swine flu . . . you name it.
Mr. President, some liked your stimulus bill, and some didn't. Either way, that legislation, along with the balky "cash-for-clunkers" initiative, are the only "big ideas" your administration has put forward to counter a faltering economy. And with a couple of exceptions, there is little evidence of "stimulus" reaching the public. Americans are losing faith that your administration has a fiscally sound approach to keep the recession from getting deeper or longer.
You were elected by independent voters who rightfully felt the Bush administration had overspent and underperformed. They were tired of edicts from on high, bailouts crafted by cozy financial titans and an obsession over a foreign war while circumstances at home were deteriorating.
And yet with your obsession over healthcare reform, you and your administration are more and more looking at least as out of touch with voters as the Bush team was. We're still suffering severe economic doldrums, yet you've soldiered on with a speech about healthcare to a joint session of Congress. That issue is near the bottom of the list of things most Americans are now fretting about. It's hard to get excited about the expansion of government when most people don't think that government does a satisfactory job of the many tasks it already handles.
Also, consider that many independent and libertarian voters developed during the George W. Bush years a sense that Sept. 11 was a pretext for government to expand its reach into the lives of citizens, and without proper representation of voters through their elected House and Senate members.
But if that gave some people heartburn, the actions of your administration in less than a year have struck a chord of fear — not just with conservative Republicans, but increasingly with moderates, many of whom voted for you. For one thing, there are too many "czars" and bureaucrats. Many of them hold reigns of power granted them by executive branch fiat, and not by congressional approval.
Finally, there's a growing sense that the Chinese official who recently criticized American monetary policy may be right. In essence, he said the U.S. is printing so much money that it may one day be nearly worthless. Talk of the national debt used to mean little to the average voter. But now that most Americans are being forced to deal with their own private debt, they are far more sensitive to the issue. When they hear words like "trillions of dollars" being thrown around, it strikes home.
If I could suggest one overall theme you might adopt to bring comfort to uneasy Americans, Mr. President, it would be a renewed faith in and reliance on free enterprise. Right now, you're largely seen as a leader who thinks government is the solution to whatever ails us. That's why the word "socialism" is heard more and more, and not just among conservatives. It's also why many didn't trust you to address America's schoolchildren and why you had to alter the speech's language to avoid the appearance that you were trying to recruit school kids as social activists.
Months ago, I wrote that economic recovery would come sooner than most expect. A look at early September's stock market backs up that claim. But with credit too tight, consumers unwilling and unable to spend, a looming final implosion in commercial real estate, and an international community that now sees our government spending and debt as a threat to the global economy, I have to say my optimism is gone.
Mr. President, your speech to Congress should have been about issues other than healthcare. You now have little time to retool your perspective and agenda. The issues I've listed above are a serious threat to the success of your presidency and the future of our nation.
Matt Towery is author of the new book, "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2009 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.