Obama's Domestic Agenda Needs a Reset

I think Massachusetts Republican State Senator Scott Brown's victory in the election to replace the late Senator Ted Kennedy is 40% a result of his far superior campaign -- his defeated opponent was a painfully inept campaigner -- and 60% a bolt of lightning delivered to the White House's nervous system from voters in what had previously been thought of as the safest Democratic state in the union. The message traveling down that bolt of lightning was that perennial favorite -- it's the economy, stupid.Obama relied on political advisers like Rahm Emanuel who suggested that Obama would have the best chance to make the hardest legislative changes in his first year. And Obama felt a great sense of loyalty to Ted Kennedy and wanted to show that loyalty by pushing through Kennedy's top legislative priority. As a result, Obama put all his chips on health care.

But, as I suggested earlier, this decision to plow ahead on health care meant downplaying what Americans cared about most in 2009 – the economy. What Obama should have been doing is to place fixing the economy at the top of his list of priorities. Since he did not do that, the electorate transferred its anger towards Bush's handling of the financial crisis onto Obama.

Put another way, when Obama took the bungled oath of office a year ago, the economic crisis was clearly the responsibility of the Bush administration. But Obama made the mistake of thinking that once he had pushed through his $787 billion stimulus package, he had done most of what he could do to help create jobs. In ways that he may now regret, passing the stimulus bill freed Obama to move on to what he hoped would be his signature accomplishment: universal health care.

To some extent, Brown's victory reflects voters' rejection of that shift in priorities away from the economy. While it's highly likely that few voters understand what the health care bill is all about, many probably recognized that its passage will not help those who are out of a job to get a new one.

Since Obama did not make enough progress on the jobs front, he has, in effect, become the new target for the public's anger and frustration over the economy.

As painful as it will no doubt be for Obama, it appears that it will take a miracle to pass health care reform once Brown takes office. This is an ironic twist that the most skilled screenwriter would not have imagined. Brown introduced himself to Massachusetts voters through a TV commercial showing President Kennedy talking about tax cuts which morphed into Brown repeating the remainder of Kennedy's speech.

Now Brown -- who disagrees with everything that JFK's brother, Ted, stood for -- is going to deal the death blow to Ted's most cherished legislative priority.

This may mean it's time for Obama to shed some of the advisers who urged him to misplace his priorities. I am not sure who those advisers are -- perhaps Emanuel and Larry Summers -- but my hunch is that Obama still has a chance to achieve great things, if he starts to realign his domestic priorities with those of the American people.

And that means caring more about creating jobs than any other agenda item.
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