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Guest: Boldness by Democrats may be best strategy


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I have always believed that in politics — as in life — once you are on a roll, you keep rolling.

President Obama and the Democrats will be both governing and running for election, and that poses an interesting question.

Should they lie low and play possum between now and the November elections, or should they ride forward hard and try to get a lot done before the November contests?

My advice is the same as Machiavelli’s in The Prince. He talks about the cautious ruler and the bold one who maintains strong momentum. When bad fortune (“Fortuna”) comes his way, the cautious Prince will fail while the one who has sufficient motion will successfully move through the obstacles and be victorious.

The best path for Obama and the Democrats is to keep rolling out the critically important challenges that face Americans.

One is to have a fully staffed and capable Supreme Court to deal with the numerous and complex challenges that face the United States. I think he needs to nominate and then support a strong contender — one who does not have a long public record of positions on the most difficult issues facing the court. The Republicans will then have to explain and defend a filibuster, which may sit well with their base but probably not with voters in general (including moderate independents).

The Democrats should push immigration reform as well, because that divisive problem is now out of control, with states (Arizona as an extreme example) taking matters into their own hands.

Immigration is a federal, not state issue, and a strong immigration law that will tighten the inflow of new illegal immigrants, arrest, try, jail, and deport undesirable and criminal illegal immigrants, and lay out a path for citizenship similar to the John McCain and George Bush approach should be viable politically.

Financial-regulation reform should also prove to be a winning initiative for the Democrats if they can spin it more crisply. Big banks sold investors financial products that were so high risk that some of the banks partners bet against those very same investments in their hedges.

Most of the voters were on the short end of these banking and investment activities, but again, the Democrats have to explain all this to the pubic (which they have been, frankly, terrible at doing).

By maintaining an energetic forward movement on policy initiatives and not hunkering down, the Democrats can wear out the numerous Republican offensives against the moves, thereby forcing them to expend lots of energy and money.

By showing “leadership,” Obama and the Democrats should also be able to establish a psychological offense, which, like in football or war, will intimidate the opponent. The majority party should exercise its majority standing until Election Day, thereby serving the people and forcing the opposition to put up their own alternatives or shut up until the voters have again spoken.

After all, with their poll numbers wobbly and predictions of a Republican gain in House and Senate races, the Democrats have little to lose in being bold. And how about Obama? Well, he doesn’t have to run again until 2012. So he can’t afford not to be bold.

Steffen Schmidt is a professor of political science at Iowa State University. He provides weekly political analysis for Iowa Public Radio and periodically in Spanish for CNN en Español. He also serves as chief political and foreign correspondent for

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