How Obama’s Strategy For Defusing Scandals Is Like Fighting Illness

As multiple polls released in the past few days indicate, President Obama’s public standing remains strong despite the GOP’s relentless effort to exploit the “trifecta” of real and imagined government errors in the Benghazi, AP, and IRS auditing events.  This is not surprising given that the conservative spin on the facts has gone well beyond what’s legitimately at issue, pushing an self-serving, manipulative narrative of Obama’s intentions and actions in each case.

What’s more interesting is how the President and his team have decided to fight the scandal accusations: rallying his base. Rather than merely rebutting each and every claim that conservatives throw at him in a defensive posture, Obama is calling on core supporters to reorient the conversation towards more friendly, and substantive, political terrain.  Call it the “white blood cell strategy” of defusing political attacks: motivate the “healthy” forces on your side to combat the “unhealthy” ones on the other.

First, at an event in Baltimore late last week, the president wisely turned back to the central issue animating the lives of Americans -– jobs and the economy.  The Baltimore Sun reported on the President’s personal connection on the economy while advancing his administration’s agenda:

As he traveled through Baltimore to promote his jobs agenda on Friday, President Barack Obama found himself sitting near a 29-year-old man who was uncertain how to reset his life after being released from prison two years ago.

In one of the few spontaneous moments of the president’s visit, Marcus Dixon — father of two boys — told Obama how he connected in 2011 with a workforce development group called the Center for Urban Families, put his life back together and began studying to become a pharmacist.

“I grew up without a father,” the president reminded Dixon. “For your sons to see you taking this path, that’s going to make all the difference in the world.”

The President then visited a pre-k class at Moravia Park Elementary school in Baltimore City and a local dredging company to help round out his efforts to focus on manufacturing, early childhood education, and job training.

Second, at a well-received commencement address at Morehouse College, the President talked intimately and forthrightly about his experience as a black man in America invoking history and offering pointed advice on how best to succeed in a divided nation:

You now hail from a lineage and legacy of immeasurably strong men – men who bore tremendous burdens and still laid the stones for the path on which we now walk. You wear the mantle of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, Ralph Bunche and Langston Hughes, George Washington Carver and Ralph Abernathy, Thurgood Marshall and yes, Dr. King. These men were many things to many people. They knew full well the role that racism played in their lives. But when it came to their own accomplishments and sense of purpose, they had no time for excuses

Be a good role model and set a good example for that young brother coming up. If you know someone who isn’t on point, go back and bring that brother along. The brothers who have been left behind – who haven’t had the same opportunities we have – they need to hear from us. We’ve got to be in the barbershops with them, at church with them, spending time and energy and presence helping pull them up, exposing them to new opportunities, and supporting their dreams. We have to teach them what it means to be a man – to serve your city like Maynard Jackson; to shape the culture like Spike Lee. Chester Davenport was one of the first people to integrate the University of Georgia law school. When he got there, no one would sit next to him in class. But Chester didn’t mind. Later on, he said, ‘It was the thing for me to do. Someone needed to be the first.’ Today, Chester is here celebrating his 50th reunion. If you’ve had role models, fathers, brothers like that – thank them today. If you haven’t, commit yourself to being that man for someone else.

Combined, the timing and substance of these two events suggest that president and his team recognize that his progressive base can be called up to fight for the issues that really matter to voters — the economy and social advancement for all people.  As Obama told the crowd in Baltimore, “I know it can seem frustrating sometimes when it seems like Washington’s priorities aren’t the same as your priorities,” he said. “But the middle class will always be my No. 1 focus, period. Your jobs, your families, your communities — that’s why I ran for president.”

It remains to be seen whether this approach will fully contain the politicized charges and assist the president in moving forward with his agenda.  But Washington Post/ABC polling released on Tuesday suggests the strategy is initially working as planned.  

Strong approval of the President’s job performance is up 3 points among Democrats since April (from 56 to 59 percent) while his overall job approval number is up slightly from 50 to 51 percent with a 5 point increase in strong job approval among all adults.  Even though a strong majority (74 percent) of Americans believe the IRS acted inappropriately in its auditing, a plurality (45 percent) of Americans believe that Republicans in Congress are just politically posturing rather than raising legitimate issues about the events.  In contrast, 51 percent of Americans believe the President is “concentrating on things that are important to you personally” while only 33 percent of Americans hold similar opinions about Republicans in Congress.   By a 46 to 37 percent margin,  Americans also say the President is doing a better job of handling the economy than Republicans.

President Obama is doing the smart thing politically by calling on his troops to remind opportunistic Republicans that they cannot overturn an election that easily.