Actually, one gets the impression Karl Rove thinks he might have wasted his talents in 2000. He’s already given advice to Hillary Clinton. “Quit being an ass” was not the sort of advice I’d expected from The Architect, but there you have it.
Now, The Architect sets his sights on Barack Obama, and I have to agree with Karl on this one. (Actually, I also agree Clinton needs to quit being an ass.)
“Even liberal commentators who adore you warn you can’t win with a McGovern coalition of college students and white-wine sippers from the party’s left wing,” says Rove. “Saying small-town voters cling to guns, faith and xenophobia because of economic bitterness hurt you; it reinforced the growing sense you don’t share Middle America’s values.”
He’s right. While I have, in fact, seen what Senator Obama said up close and personal, it’s not the sort of thing you tell a person when you’re asking for their vote. The truth hurts, especially when you don’t think it’s the truth. The fact is if people are clinging to guns, faith, and fear, they probably don’t want to be reminded.
So what does Karl suggest? Slinging mud at Hillary? Swift-boating McCain.
Actually, Karl’s pretty pragmatic. And insists Obama get back to his original message of hope.
1. Your stump speech is sounding old and out of touch. You made a mistake by not giving the bored press (and voters) something new last Tuesday when you lost Pennsylvania. Come up with something fresh that’s focused on the general election. Recapture the optimistic tone of your start and discard the weary, prickly and distracted tone you’ve taken on.
2. When you get into trouble, pick one, simple explanation. And stay with it. Take the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. You said you weren’t sitting in church when he said those ugly things. Two days later, you excused him, saying his comments didn’t give “a well-rounded portrait” of him. Two days after that, you condemned his statements as “not only wrong but divisive” but still couldn’t “disavow him” any more than you could your grandmother. Ten days later, you implied if Wright hadn’t retired, you might have left his church. It would have been better to say from the start that Wright’s words were wrong and offensive and you should have spoken out earlier. The applause would have been deafening.
3. Your lack of achievements undercuts your core themes. It’s powerful when you say America is not “Red States or Blue States but the United States.” The problem is, you don’t have a long Senate record of working across party lines. So build one. In the coming months, say that you’ll appoint Republicans to your cabinet and get a couple to say they’d serve. Highlight initiatives Republicans can agree on. Most importantly, push for a bipartisan issue now before Congress.
4. You speak of the “fierce urgency of now” that calls leaders to confront important challenges. Sounds good, but people are asking, what urgent issues have drawn your enormous talents? It’s counterintuitive, but spend less time campaigning and more time working the Senate. Pick a big issue and fight hard for it. Win or lose, you’ll give your argument substance.
5. Stop the attacks. They undermine your claim to a post-partisan new politics. You soared when you seemed above politics, lost altitude when you did what you criticize. Attacks are momentarily satisfying but ultimately corrode your appeal.
6. To answer growing questions about your inexperience, people need to know, in concrete and credible ways, what they can expect from you as president. That’s missing now. And don’t think those position papers written by academics and posted on the Web do the job. They have a check-the-box quality to them. Americans want to see your passion and commitment to things they care about, in ways that give them confidence you’re up to the job. They can smell when something is poll-tested and focus-grouped, not from the heart.
There are two reasons Senator Obama needs to pay attention. First off, America needs change, and the right’s assertion that Obama is more of the same – I’m assuming this “same” was culled from a Rush Limbaugh rant from 1990 – doesn’t wash. A black, left-leaning president who admires Ronald Reagan? Vs. a pro-war Republican and the Second Coming of the Clinton Administration? Yes, kids, that is change. And change is overdue.
Second, I keep hearing “Why can’t Obama close the deal?” Obama needs to close the deal now, or we will be in for another close, contentious election, and America simply cannot afford that anymore.
Less George W. Bush, Barack. You’re too smart for that. Less JFK from 1960. You’re better than that. More Reagan. More FDR. More second-term Teddy Roosevelt.
And for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t drive a tank!*
*John, Hil, do us a favor and stay out of tanks as well.