Rebooting the White House's Agenda

(CBS)
Reeling from a surprise loss for Democrats in the Massachusetts Senate election, President Obama faces an emboldened Republican Party as he prepares for this week's State of the Union address. CBS News chief White House correspondent Bill Plante reports the White House is now looking for ways to reconnect the president with millions of Americans who voted for change last year — and feel they didn't get it.

aimed at helping struggling middle class families.

Dan Bartlett, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, said Mr. Obama has tried to do too much too quickly in his first year in office, misspending his political capital on a progressive agenda. "He tried to press too much too fast," Bartlett said on CBS' "The Early Show." "The type of change that the public wanted is not what they got in the first year. It felt a lot like politics-as-usual, a lot of Democratic pent-up demands to do conventional pork barrel spending and overreaching of the government. What you're seeing now is a scaling back of that. We'll have to see if it works."

Dee Dee Myers, former press secretary to President Bill Clinton, said the president underestimated how important the economy was to voters — and how long and hard the White House would have to fight to make vital changes to the health care system. "What he needs to do now and what they are starting to do is to refocus on the economy, to talk about jobs, to talk about ways to make the economy work for middle class Americans in particular, who feel like they've been left to float along on their own while Wall Street gets a huge bailout.

"So we'll see I think not a rebooting of Obama 2.0, but subtle and consistent changes to make the economy work for middle class voters starting with last week, and we'll hear more of it in the State of the Union."

She said that in 2008 Obama won a huge margin of independent voters by talking about the middle, but those voters are demanding he stick to his promise of fixing Washington. "It turns out, as most presidents find out, fixing Washington is a heck of a lot harder than it appears from the campaign trail," Myers said.

When asked by "Early Show" anchor Harry Smith if Republicans were interested in working with the president in the second year of his term, or if they would be happier to see him fail so as to reap benefits in the November mid-term elections, Bartlett said, "It depends. … they're helping him make sure that Chairman Bernanke gets reconfirmed [as head of the Federal Reserve], but one concern I would have is that the administration, they're still defending this controversial health care bill. Their big answer to the big defeat in Massachusetts was that, 'We need more politics, we're bringing back our campaign manager, David Plouffe. It wasn't a substantive problem we had, it was a political problem.'

"And I think that's going to be an error. It's not that the public wants more politics, they want less. And that will require this administration to scale back its more progressive and liberal ambitions and start to work together [with conservatives]."

[Plouffe said this week that, despite the loss of a 60th Democratic vote in the Senate, the fight for health care reform will not be dropped. "We have to find a way to get this done — first of all because it's the right thing for this country, but I think politically were we to walk away now, you know, it would be devastating."]

Bartlett predicted that President Obama's approval rating will be below 50% for the rest of the year, but Myers said Mr. Obama has shown how he can retool and readjust given changes in events. "The White House hears the message, they get that they haven't communicated effectively, that they need to retool a bit and without again a huge reintroduction, the subtle changes that the president will need to do, including most importantly focusing on the economy and making it work for middle class voters."

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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