Published on TheHill.com on February 25, 2014
President Obama and his newest counsel, John Podesta, are using the same executive action strategy we saw during the 1995-96 Clinton campaign to gain traction in public opinion even with a hostile Congress. But Republicans and conservatives do not understand exactly what his moves are all about and are at a loss to counter them.
The Gallup poll amply demonstrates the effectiveness of the president’s new strategy, showing his ratings rising from a low of 39 percent to a recent range of 43 percent to 46 percent in the latest three-day rolling average. This steady advance in poll numbers duplicates exactly what was found during the Clinton years when his executive action strategy was applied.
Republicans and conservatives are outraged that the president is usurping congressional prerogatives with his executive orders and new federal regulations. They see Obama’s actions primarily in terms of their public policy implications and the impact on the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government.
But there is far more at work than meets the eye.
Obama has two objectives in his current approach: to do everything he can to distract public attention from his disastrous healthcare program; and to highlight popular positions on issues including the minimum wage, environmental protection, fuel efficiency standards, sexual harassment in the military, gun control, employment of the long-term jobless and immigration.
But he knows presidential speeches and proposals are often not covered by the media or are consigned to the back pages of newspapers. So, where possible, he accompanies his rhetoric with an executive order, to force prominent coverage, because it then becomes hard news. The media has to cover executive orders. The orders have a reality, even if their actual scope can be limited, that mere speeches do not.
As a result, Obama is out there day after day speaking out on well-polled topics on which he knows he will get a favorable reception, emphasizing how his program is much more varied and appetizing than his healthcare program is turning out to be. It’s like when, a few years ago, a paint company wanted to position itself as an alternative to Home Depot and sell a range of home improvement products, so it adopted the slogan “It ain’t just paint.” Obama’s would be “It ain’t just healthcare.”
How can Republicans answer? Neither Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can hope to equal the president’s outsized megaphone or to compete with the range of policies he can pursue. Indeed, the media has become so used to one-house bills that aren’t going anywhere that they no longer afford them prominent coverage.
But legislative hearings are quite another matter. Their drama, force and impact can be huge, and they make great copy for media and print outlets.
Republicans must not sit passively by and watch Obama pile up good poll numbers. They have to hit back with hearings of their own, using their control of the gavel in House committees, to emphasize their issues.
The GOP should hold hearings on the damage being done by ObamaCare to doctors, hospitals, employers and covered Americans.
We need to revisit Benghazi to come to understand how the fictitious talking points about an Internet video came to the fore in discussions about the attack.
IRS leaders have some explaining to do concerning their scores of White House visits and meetings with the president, especially one by former Commissioner Douglas Shulman the day before he issued new regulations on how to treat conservative groups applying for tax exemptions.
We need to learn the genesis of the decision to confiscate Associated Press phone records.
And we must get to the bottom of Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s solicitation of donations from interested parties to publicize ObamaCare enrollment.
And the list goes on.
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