If I were advising the White House right now, I would encourage President Obama to take advantage of the end of this year’s election cycle—the next fifty or so days—to immediately try to change the subject, in a big way.
The Obama administration should act right away to use its executive powers to take steps to deal with long-ignored issues that need to be dealt with for the good of the nation.
This cannot be done quietly. To change the media narrative, issues acted upon will have to be controversial enough to dominate the news. President Obama should embrace good progressive public policy while expecting—indeed, hoping for—a massive outcry from the wing-nut section of the GOP.
Controversy is not the enemy here. And issue clarity—or issue polarization—can be helpful, if the administration seizes the initiative and chooses public policy issues on which to fight.
The president should go big right now, undertaking a quick series of high-profile executive actions on issues that the Republican House has not acted upon, and will never pass. President Obama should be very visible, with photo ops and speeches and social media and grassroots backup and appearances on Between Two Ferns, moving hard and fast from one executive action to the next.
Here are a few suggestions. (And I’m sure people as smart as John Podesta and David Axelrod can think of a couple more.) Whatever is decided, act big—and act fast.
Why not draw the line in the sand this week?
1. Start with serious immigration reform. Announce a serious executive action, to make up for the fact that Beltway Republicans will not act on this critical issue.
Go to the South Valley of Texas and/or the Arizona border, and make appearances with some of the little girls and boys who are trying to come to the United States to avoid their dangerous, hard-scrabble lives in Honduras and Guatemala.
Pick a fight with Rick Perry and/or Jan Brewer, if need be, and be glad that you’re in a high-profile fight with them. Let the right-wing come unglued—which they will!—and don’t back down when Steve King and Louie Gohmert and Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin start calling for impeachment. Not only will the wing nuts threaten impeachment over perfectly legal executive actions, and their actions dominate the airwaves, it will turn off independents and moderates, and create a no-win situation that leaves most of the Republican presidential candidates twisting in the wind. (Remember: they can’t get sixty-seven pro-impeachment votes in the Senate, any more than they could when Bill Clinton was impeached—and the foolish, overwrought attacks on Clinton helped clarify to most Americans that the GOP was the big problem in DC.)
2. For the next two years, do everything you can to create a climate legacy that will stand the test of time—a legacy that will look better and better as the decades go by, and the atmosphere heats up more and more.
Cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline before the right wing can draw a breath after your immigration actions. Then, Mr. President, elevate climate change as an issue, the way you took on healthcare reform (only without bothering to try to pass anything through John Boehner’s House).
Meet with China and India on climate issues, before the next round of global climate meetings. Set aside big chunks of public land and ocean, and hold photo ops in spectacular natural settings as you do so—very few executive acts are so popular with most of the public.
Host a national teach-in with real climate scientists, on C-Span, and use it to drive a nail in the coffin of the fake, corporate-funded, “climate denial” science.
Pull together a meeting of coastal mayors to talk about what “resilience” steps to take to prepare for the next Superstorm Sandy—this is not only necessary, it’s a good way to raise the issue of needed infrastructure spending.
Take the climate disruption issue head-on, and make it part of the Obama legacy. No previous leaders have met the challenge of global warming, a threat that affects both national and world security. President Obama could be the first to take it on. Future generations will thank him.
4. Go up to the edge of normalizing relations with Cuba. Send Attorney General Eric Holder down to Havana to work out the details.
I understand that current law prevents a president from fully normalizing relations with Cuba, but there are a series of executive actions that a president could take that would weaken the embargo, increase American prestige in this hemisphere, and help stabilize working relationships with Cuba on a series of bilateral issues.
Even better, President Obama can take these executive actions just before the entire hemisphere meets at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in May, actions that will enhance his reputation—and America’s reputation—across Latin America.
5. Use changing national attitudes on marijuana to weaken the wasteful and ineffective war on drugs. Better yet, use presidential executive power to weaken our harsh and racist criminal injustice system.
Reclassify marijuana as a less-dangerous drug. Commute sentences of nonviolent pot prisoners (a disproportionate number of them young African-Americans!).
Appoint a blue-ribbon presidential commission on drug reform and criminal justice reform, with a mandate to report back quickly on issues from marijuana legalization to curbing police brutality to eliminating three-strikes-and-you’re-out policies to reforming harsh sentencing to ending the militarization and weaponization of local and state police departments to stop and frisk to racial profiling.
6. Nominate Tom Harkin to the Federal Reserve Board.
7. In the proud tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, issue a Good Jobs Executive Order that would reward companies that pay their workers a living wage, allow them a voice at the workplace without having to go on strike, adhere to federal workplace safety and fair labor standards and limit the pay of their chief executives to some reasonable ratio to that of their average workers.
8. Nominate a diverse set of progressives to fill every judicial vacancy at every level, and then make this a huge national throwdown fight when they are not approved. Given the poor public view of the runaway, activist, Citizens United–tainted Supreme Court, judges could become one of the big issues of the 2016 campaign.
Be the change you want to see. Sí, se puede.