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Obama's Next Move

A panel of advisors on how Barack should contend with dropping polls, waning enthusiasm, and a new foe.
Barack Obama is slumping. Poll numbers are down. Enthusiasm is down. Democrats, once again, are freaking. So, we asked a few folks, from different walks of life, to offer their opinion on what Obama should do to improve his standing.

Former Massachusetts Governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis:

On campaigning:
"I think this thing is going to be won in the field, with basic grassroots organizing ... and I don't think McCain has anything out there. Obama is attempting to do that more thoroughly and better, in more states, than I think anybody I can remember, including the guy you're talking to."

On experience:
"I think this experience thing is phony as a three-dollar bill. This guy's been in elected office for twelve consecutive years. That's more than Reagan was, more the Carter was, more than George Bush was, in fact double the amount of time Bush was in elected office, the same as Clinton and Bush One, and a couple of years less than John Kennedy. Some of that was in Illinois which is hardly the minor leagues of American politics, and he represented more people in his state senate district than live in the entire state of Alaska. He was an extremely effective state legislator. He's been an extremely effective United States senator. And frankly I don't know exactly what John McCain's executive experience is, to tell you the truth."

On fighting back:
"Obama should continue to do what he has been doing for the past few days, which is to address major issues in ways that obviously make the difference for people between him and McCain. And at the same time, he has to make sure that they don't do what I did, which was to not respond to what has been a very tough attack campaign that's been going on for weeks."

On the issues:
"I think it's important that he emphasizes that McCain has never voted for the working guy in his life. It's not just minimum wage votes; it's everything: Privatizing Social Security and Medicare, he's anti-union, he hasn't lifted a finger for public education, his health plan is a joke. I mean, this guy--he doesn't really believe that working people and their families in this country ought to be guaranteed basic health insurance. So, I think you want to draw those contrasts, and I think he will do so and has already begun to do so."

Joe Trippi, former top strategist for John Edwards and Howard Dean:

Forget Sarah Palin. ... Don't react. Not directly. Let somebody else do that. If you're Barack Obama, you gotta focus on McCain. And I would not use anger. It would be a big mistake for him, whether it's righteous or not. ... His persona is perfect; he's fine.

I think they need to recognize that it will be very difficult to tie McCain to Bush. Sometimes it doesn't matter if somebody voted with him 90 percent of the time. People may not be willing to think of McCain that way. It's kind of like when Clinton kept saying, "I have 35 years experience, and he's only got change." It didn't really move anybody. Once the Clinton people finally realized that line of attack wasn't going to work, she started to win.

The McCain campaign seems to have figured out, by watching Clinton, that saying he has been in Washington for 26 years and has more experience isn't going to work. So, what did they do? They picked Palin specifically so he could move the focus and the decision point in the race. It's no longer experience versus change; it's reform and change versus change. Now it's up to the Obama people to adjust.

I caution everyone who's wringing their hands, because having faced Obama and his team, I remember plenty of times when they had to make an adjustment against John Edwards or Hillary Clinton. It wasn't like they went through the Democratic primaries without being thrown off balance every once and a while. But they would make the adjustment, get stronger, and beat us. They've just gotta reframe this, and I expect them to.

One last thing: the word ‘lipstick' ... stay away from that word for the rest of the campaign. Stay away from animals and stay away from lipstick. I think that's a good idea.

Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA)

The first and single thing he can do, and I believe he will do, is to do well in the debates. Because once the debates start, people will remember its Obama and McCain they're choosing between. And there's no way McCain can hide behind Governor Palin, regardless of what the status of Palin is these days. Once the debates start, it will remind people that there are two people they're choosing between. And I think Senator Obama has a real opportunity in those debates to focus on the issues. You can't hide behind 30-second ads; you've got to talk about the issues. And I think Obama can win the debates significantly, and if he does so, I think he'll become president. That's first and foremost. That dwarfs everything else.

In the four or five weeks leading up to the convention, and even in the one week that's past, they've done an incredibly effective job of casting doubts about Senator Obama. And in most cases they've done it with somewhere between distortions, untruths, and outright lies. Like the ads and speeches at the convention that say Obama's going to raise your taxes on 95 percent of Americans. That's untrue, and they know it's untrue.

I think to some degree it's better that he responds through surrogates. But I think on the substantive things like the tax plan, he should be talking about it more directly himself. Now he did that at the convention in a wonderful speech, but we all should be talking about that. Because in the end, people are going to vote on issues, and they're going to vote on pocketbook and economic issues. And we're on the right side and they're on the wrong side, so we can't stress that point enough.

The Republicans can't govern worth a damn, but they can campaign and spend extremely effectively. We're just getting our legs when it comes to fighting back and getting the message out. And I think it took time for people to get ticked off, and I am now energized more than I thought I would be and probably more energized than I was for Senator Clinton, because I'm so angry at the lies and the distortion of McCain's campaign. Give them credit for the fact that it's effective, to a point. But this is no decent and honorable campaign. This is a campaign based on distortions and untruths, and that's another point we should get across to the American people.

But I want Senator Obama talking about important things. I don't want him talking about lipstick on a pig or responding to their lipstick ad. I want him to say, "Hey folks, they're trying to put up every smokescreen, to do everything they can to take your eye off the ball. The ball is, who can best improve the quality of your life, and that's us and here's why. Boom--healthcare. Boom--home mortgages. Boom--economic plan. Boom--taxes." Just boom, boom, boom.


Dee Dee Myers, former press secretary for President Bill Clinton:

The first thing you have to do is stop running against Sarah Palin and start running against John McCain. She's sort of bullet-proof, so the best thing to do in my opinion is to use her enormous popularity to contrast with John McCain. I mean, I think of them as Sonny and Cher. You know, what was Sonny without Cher? He was nothing, right? And once she left him, she went on to stardom and he disappeared. He was a successful entrepreneur, he's not an idiot, but he has no star-power. She's the talent, she's the excitement, she's the draw.

What Sarah Palin has done, and this is something I like about her, is that she's a women who has succeeded very much on her own terms. She talks about motherhood as a training ground for leadership; she manages and balances her family and her work in her own way. It's very hard to see where her family ends and her work begins. I think a lot of women see their lives that way. Not everyone's going to go out and shoot a moose and put their hair up in a bun and put on their sexy open-toe shoes and go to dinner. ... But does everybody have to be lock-step on every issue? Or can somebody who's outside--in Sarah Palin's case, very much outside--the traditional feminist agenda still move the ball forward for women? I think the answer is yes. When I hear Pat Buchanan on TV, decrying sexism in the media, you know? This is not all bad. ... I don't know where abortion rights are going to end up in all this, and honestly that concerns me, but I think we need to find a different language to talk about it. I think that there are more women who identify with Sarah Palin than Gloria Steinem right now. Even if they don't agree with 100 percent of her agenda, her life looks more like their lives.

Some people--it wasn't the Obama campaign, but they're suffering the consequences--came out against her so hard on such a broad range of topics, including her family, that I think the public reacted viscerally. So now everything negative that's said about her--whether it's true, as in charges about the bridge to nowhere, or not true, as in rumors about her baby--people discount it. And so, on some level, we could argue all day whether it matters or not what her qualifications are, the public has decided that that's not how they're judging this. They know she doesn't know anything about foreign policy and they don't really care.

The main thing about Sarah Palin is what she says about John McCain. He couldn't have possibly won this campaign by talking about his ideas--you know, his plans for the future, his record in Washington. That was about as attractive as day-old bread. If she's the future of the party, he's the past. ... You have to get back to Sarah Palin, what a phenom, isn't she a remarkable person, what a great story to tell, and doesn't she make John McCain the most boringest, most yesterday guy in the world? And let's remember, he is, because his policies really stink. I mean, let's use her to point out his weaknesses instead of shielding him from his weaknesses. Let's remind people why she's there, because he can't get three people into a hotel ballroom without her. No one's hearing a word he says. No one wants to hear about his policies. You've got to be a little careful because I don't remember the last time when a national campaign was decided purely on the basis of policy. But who's going to be running the show? Who's the real agent of change here? Who's the person who's talking about tomorrow?

My dad is 74 my mom is 69, they use their computer every day and so do all their friends. It's not a demographic issue; it's a state-of-mind issue. My mom's on there emailing Congress, emailing John McCain. She's like, "You stop it!" It's not that most people his age don't use computers; it's that he's not in touch with the world as it works now. If you can't send an email, if you don't even know how to Google, I mean how do you know anything? I think that's not an argument about age, it's an argument about state-of-mind. John McCain is a guy whose ideas are stuck firmly in the past.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban:

Obama has fallen into the traditional campaign trap of, "Follow me, watch me, listen to me. When my VP candidate does something, talk about him as well." That's a linear campaign and that's a huge mistake.

Obama needs to take a page from Ron Paul, maybe even hiring some of his people to energize the millions of Obama-ites to organize events, overwhelm blogger comment sections, Twitter, YouTube, and flood the inboxes of every blogger, media commentator, and personality.

The followers of Ron Paul became the story. Their events, their energy.

Obama needs to encourage his followers to organize, promote, discuss, and get media for their own events, with the net effect of reaching and registering more voters--but more importantly, overwhelming bloggers and media with all the events.

I would make sure that all these events are promoted, recorded, and streamed from the Obama site.

The interesting thing about Ron Paul's internet and real world efforts is that they haven't been negative. They have been positive feedback about their candidate rather than negative about the opposition.

If Obama can "Ron Paul" McCain before McCain does it to him, he could see a change.

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By TNR Staff