July 14th, 2010
09:00 AM ET

Letter to the President #541: 'Two pieces of paper'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The President’s party is bracing for trouble this fall, which, as I suggest in today’s letter, means he better be, too.

Dear Mr. President,

At this moment, if I were in your chair, I would be looking at two pieces of paper on my desk. Well, in all honesty, if I were in your chair what I’d probably do first is say, “Wow! I’m in the Oval Office! How the heck did I wind up here?” Which is probably what a fair number of presidents have privately said at some point.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/07/art.obama.jpg]

But back to those two pieces of paper. On the first, I would write down my plan for the next two years if the Democrats maintain control of the House and Senate this fall.

And take this for a given: you can’t just stick with the plan from the first year-and-a-half or so of your term. I say that because even with your party running the show it has been surprisingly chaotic. Half the time it’s seems like you’re the only team on the court and yet you still run around like a it’s some kind of Three Stooges movie trying to figure out how to win. I’m not trying to be rude, but it’s baffling.

Frankly, I’ve wondered from time to time if you would have benefited from a more balanced Congress which would have demanded robust engagement of the Repubs, and which conversely, would have forced your party to put aside many differences to form a unified front. I mean, the only real legislative points the GOP has scored since you took the oath have flowed out of your party’s inability to stick together.

And that, of course, brings up the second piece of paper. On that one, I would write down the alternative plan in case the Republicans seize control of one or both chambers. This one will require brutal self-examination, honesty, and I suspect some pretty tense conversations with your pals. Because the secret to working with real opposition (which, one can argue, oddly enough you have not really faced… except from people who should have naturally been your allies) is not merely listening to their points of view, but also respecting them and figuring out when and where and how you can work together despite your differences.

I know the Repubs have not given you any breaks, and that second piece of paper may be hard to face. But whether they take control of Congress or not, it is probably a fair bet that you have already seen the most cooperative Congress you will ever see while President, and that’s pretty daunting, I’m sure.

I know the election is some time off still, but by writing these things down now, you give yourself time to mull over the many options, and to refine your ideas. For simplicity sake you can put the first one on the left and the second on the right. And I suppose you might have a sheet for the possibility of your party taking even more control of Congress, but there’s not much reason to think you’ll need that one.

Call if you want to talk it all over a bit. I’m on the road, but always happy to chat.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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