Fresh start for Rick Perry?

Waaaay to soon to rule Rick Perry out, folks, as all of us who grew up tough in West Texas know.

What do you think will be Perry’s next “distractive” comment, by the way? And what are your thoughts about Obama’s best strategy to fight or flank?

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico


strategyThe Arena Asks: Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s new proposal would let Americans choose between their existing income tax rate or a new flat tax of 20 percent. Will Perry’s flat tax plan restore him to the GOP presidential primary lead? Will his new campaign team help? And what do you make of Perry’s recent birther-curious comments?


Rick Perry might not know how to govern the country but he knows how to win a race by adapting and persisting. The unifying thread connecting these three changes in Perry’s campaign is this: the man is a learner with an almost feral competitiveness that turns obstacles into fuel to propel him to his goal.

For example, while Herman Cain sounds crazy with his 9-9-9 plan, Perry catches that people yearn for simple, neat answers even if they are wrong. Voila! The Perry flat tax proposal, which sounds almost sane in contrast to Cain’s.

And in the bread and circuses category, there’s a dollop of raw meat for the birther contingent of the Republican Party to flame up the fires of Perry’s base (pun intended) support while taking their focus off his not-so-anti-immigration position. Guess he’s holding his next draconian anti-abortion salvo in his back pocket till another “distractive” issue is needed.

Democrats, be very afraid. And Obama had better come up with a zingier, more numerically explicit retort than mushy-mouthed allegations that the most fortunate would pay less while middle class people would pay more with a flat tax. It’s like cotton candy, melts in your mouth but doesn’t satisfy the need for real economic nourishment and a bold policy menu.

Is Obama’s Leadership dragging down Dems?

I’m in SC today speaking to the South Carolina Women Lawyers Association Women Lawyers and Leadership Conference. Everyone is looking for leadership, but we need to remember that a leader is somebody who gets something done.  And then go do it. Same advice I have for members of Congress in my Arena commentary today. Read on and let me know what you would tell the complainers:

Foreclosure signArena Asks: President Obama’s sagging poll numbers have many Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2012 running for cover. And discontent with the president is growing on the House side, too: In his retirement statement Thursday Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) ripped the Obama White House for what he called inaction on the housing foreclosure crisis. Will President Obama be a political albatross for Democratic congressional candidates in 2012?

My Answer: As a lawyer, President Obama should know the first rule of debate: whoever defines the terms is most likely to win it. His failure or perhaps intentional reluctance to do that is the real albatross weighing down members of Congress and causing him to lose the extraordinary voter enthusiasm that swept him into office.

But it’s really up to the members of Congress themselves to decide whether to send the bird on its way or allow it to define the terms of their leadership–both the policy terms and whether they will win additional terms in office. Nothing but Washington political roles as usual keep them from asserting leadership initiatives themselves. We haven’t seen a lot of that either, now have we?

Sometimes it’s up to the followers to show the leader where the parade is going so he can get in front of it.

A strategy of trying to distance themselves from the president will in the end drag Congressional candidates down much more surely than if they instead worked to lift him up with the power of defining and vigorously fighting for the very policy solutions they charge Obama with ignoring. All Democrats are going to be called birds of a feather anyway, so they might as well flock together rather than allow themselves to be picked off separately by attacking one another.

Is “Obamacare” crumbling?

It’s all about leadership. Would you agree?

Health CrisisArena Asks: The Obama administration is scrapping a long-term care insurance program created by the new health care law, reports the New York Times. The administration’s decision was another setback for the new law, which is under attack in court, in Congress and in many state legislatures. How much does this erode support for the health law? Will this be an issue in the 2012 campaign?

My Answer: The decision to scuttle the Class program reinforces the perception of the Obama administration as naive but does not signal the crumbling of Obamacare. Smart managers like Secretary Sebelius always reevaluate and revise on the way from plan to practice. Especially with a complex new program like health reform, there will be a constant need to test assumptions and adapt the program to make it better or to address new circumstances.

The much thornier problem for the President in 2012 stems from his unwillingness to lead people to a higher vision of how truly universal health care could boost the economy while dramatically improving healthcare for all. If he had done that, “Obamacare” would be a badge of honor rather than a pejorative. But by starting the game with a series of compromises and no clear policy statement, he ensured that any health reform legislation that did pass would be the subject not of the applause it deserves but of unrelenting attacks from partisan opponents.

Will outside groups crush Dems?

Do you think it’s too late for Obama to redeem himself, as this question seems to imply?  If you were advising him, what would you say? And do you think insurgent movements like Occupy Wall Street can help re-inspire the progressive base?

Occupy Wall StreetArena Asks: Democrats across the country are preparing for an onslaught of attacks from American Crossroads, an independent fundraising group that bombed the 2010 elections with negative ads.

Even President Obama seems to acknowledge the shift in power. Will these outside groups give Republicans a big advantage in 2012? And is Obama right to consider himself an “underdog?”

My Answer:Unfortunately for Democrats, the only antidote to democracy is more and better participation in democracy. The Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate contributions has plowed up the electoral field. It forces Democrats to counter with more money and greater activism. That’s hard to accomplish when your leader has squandered so much of his first term with futile efforts to appease right wing crocodiles, and as a result has demoralized his base.

So yes, Obama is in a sense an underdog of his own making, but he still owns the bully pulpit. And he still has a year to redeem himself with an aggressive economic agenda and a full throated rhetorical assault against the greedy Tea Party and right-wing religious fundamentalist who would just as soon take us back to the dark ages on both fiscal and social policy.

What the Democrats are unlikely to do, thank goodness, is be as ruthless as the Republicans who as we speak are aiming to win by suppressing the vote in key swing states. The counterpunch must be to engage more Democrats and Independents to get mad and get even.

Back off, Rush, and Let the First Lady Shop

Mondays are typically slow news days, and today was apparently no exception to judge from the superfluous questions asked of Politico’s Arena panel today.  On the other hand, I’m still ticked off that I didn’t know about the Missoni collection at Target until it was sold out, so what do I know? Did any of you find the Missonis? And really, do you think the media should have spent one drop of ink reporting on Michelle Obama’s shopping trip to Target?

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Arena Asks: An Associated Press photographer’s shots of First Lady Michelle Obama strolling away from the checkout counter at a Target store in Alexandria, VA, circled the globe Friday. While many found the photos endearing, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck saw it differently. Considering the photographer just happened to be at Target at the same time, was the first lady’s shopping trip an innocent errand or image manipulation?

My Answer:Who’s kidding whom? How can the FLOTUS ever do anything uncalculated even if she wants to? I’ll bet dollars to donuts she’d LOVE to be able to sneak away and shop anywhere without having to think about its impact on her husband’s polls. But she can’t, so that’s not really the question no matter how right-wing shock jocks spin it.

Symbolically, the message is one that struck home with me. Everyone wants to get good value for the dollar. I’ve found I can buy stylish workout clothes at Target for one-fourth the price I’d pay at major brand stores, for example. So why would I waste money I could save, spend on something else for myself or my family, or contribute to a worthy cause?

Whatever her reason, Michelle Obama was being smart to shop for value. Or maybe she was just trying to snag some of those made-for-Target Missoni garments before they sold out.

Suskind Flap: Is the Obama administration sexist?

You might look at my headline and reply, “Is the Pope Catholic?” because you agree with my contention that institutional sexism is bound to exist in a structure so traditionally male-dominated. Read on and let me know what you think about Arena’s question of whether the new Suskind book’s revelations about the treatment of women in the White House will damage Obama.

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Arena Asks: Tuesday’s release of a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind is causing heartache at the White House. “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President” describes a difficult work environment for women in the Obama administration’s early months, among other revelations. How much, if at all, will the book damage the Obama White House? And did staffers err in giving access to the author, who previously wrote books often critical of the George W. Bush administration?

My Answer:It should come as no surprise to anyone that institutional sexism exists in the White House, as it does in virtually all leadership structures traditionally run by men, progressive or conservative. Suskind’s findings were hardly new or unique to the Obama administration.

True, Obama should be more sensitive because he has experienced institutional racism. So women rightly expect better of him, but hey, in the end, he is still a man’s man who does business on the golf course or over a beer. When Obama appointed a largely male (and largely white men associated with either Obama’s campaign or previous administrations) team of top advisors, it was clear women could expect business as usual: they would not be taken into the inner circles nor would their voices be heard at the same decibels as men’s. Women experience this kind of subtle discrimination every day in almost every venue.

What was different this time–and this is huge–is that the women spoke up for themselves, demanded changes, and from evidence in Suskind’s book, got at least some of what they wanted. It is incumbent on women to embrace our own power to make these changes happen. If Obama shows a sincere and continuing commitment to erasing the institutional sexism and moving women to parity in the inner circles of power, he will not be hurt, but could actually benefit from this issue being aired in Suskind’s book.


POLITICO Arena: What would you ask the candidates?

Get into the act! What question do you want to ask the candidates?  Post your comments here.

Politico TheArena logo

Arena Asks: Eight Republican presidential hopefuls are gearing up to take the stage tonight for the POLITICO/NBC News debate – the first major faceoff as campaign season kicks into high gear.

If you were a moderator at tonight’s debate, what would you ask the candidates and why?

My Answer: You see government as the problem. Yet you want to be not just part of it but to lead it. How would you create public confidence in its elected officials and public servants after you have you have built your candidacy on making them the enemy?

(Follow up question: how will you make up for the broadscale elimination of public sector jobs caused by your policies?)

Many Democrats and Independents would agree with you that the government is the problem when it comes to social issues you espouse, such as making abortion illegal, eliminating women’s health care such as routine family planning from insurance plans, and intruding on medical practice with gag rule measures that tell doctors what they can or cannot say to patients. Please explain why you support these measures while promising to get government out of people’s lives.

(Follow up question: These measures are all aimed at exerting government power over women’s lives. Yet you don’t support measures like Paycheck Fairness to give women an equal shot at economic self-sufficiency. How in the world do you justify that?)

Should voters consider candidates’ religious beliefs?

Don’t get me wrong: I think religious literacy, as in knowing the history and beliefs of various religions including one’s own, is important for every citizen.  And in answer to the question of whether voters should consider candidates’ religious beliefs, I should have added that people need to understand what each of the candidates’ religious beliefs are so as to understand better how that individual might govern. Beyond that…well, read on and let me know what you think. Continue reading “Should voters consider candidates’ religious beliefs?”

“Eight Questions to Negotiate Resolution of the Federal Budget Crisis”

Victoria Pynchon
Thanks to Victoria Pynchon for this excellent cross post, originally published on — it’s jam packed with advice Congress really ought to take before the next seemingly intractable debate.
Be sure to read down to recommendation #8. Seems like great minds think alike 😉

As the Charlotte Observer noted this morning, with six days remaining before “expected economic chaos,” our leaders “not only can’t agree on a grand vision for how to get America’s debt under control, they can’t even take the basic steps needed to pay all the bills and avert financial panic.”  Until the crisis is solved, we will continue our series of negotiation advice for the Democrats and the GOP from some of the leading lights in the negotiation world.

Today, I’ve posed eight questions to author, lawyer and negotiation trainer and consultant Carol Frohlinger, co-author of Her Place at the Table: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success and co-founder of Negotiating Women, Inc, which provides practical skills training women can use immediately to be more successful at work.

1. Is there an optimal negotiation strategy where one side is willing to risk catastrophic consequences for the political prize of ideological purity?

Frohlinger:  The challenge here is that some of the Republicans do not believe that catastrophic consequences will follow if the parties don’t reach agreement. They do not think that the markets will collapse, that interest rates will rise, that investors will rethink buying U.S. debt and that the ratings agencies will downgrade the credit rating of the U.S.. Instead, they are convinced that there will be no financial Armageddon and that things will sort themselves out in the way they believe is the right way. One strategy would be to offer proof that their thinking is flawed – explore whether there are economists they respect who do not share their beliefs and enlist them as allies.

2. The GOP seems to be carrying a cynanide pill to prevent themselves from possible compromise. Is there any way for them to get out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into without losing face?

Frohlinger: It is very difficult for the GOP because some on the far right have taken positions that put them at odds with their leadership. Speaker Boehner is in a situation that requires him to negotiate with them as well as with the Democrats. My guess is that Boehner is finding the negotiations with the Democrats a great deal easier. Boehner has to find a way to allow these Republicans to save face – or find enough votes without them to get his bill passed. But even if he can do that, it won’t pass the Senate as things stand now.

3 . If you had one piece of advice for the Dems and one piece of advice for the GOP, what would it be.

Frohlinger: I’d advise them both to pay attention to process – agree on the ways they will negotiate, at least. For example, agree that neither party talks to the media (or only at pre-determined, scheduled times), agree on the number of hours they will spend a day in negotiation, etc. The parties do not trust one another so need to find ways to work together by first reaching agreement even on seemingly trivial things – that builds momentum and a way to create trust.

4. Where party interests are as incompatible as they appear to be here, is there any hope of agreement?

Frohlinger:  Yes, because the leadership of both parties have a common interest – avoiding an economic meltdown. The problem is that the GOP is deeply divided and some don’t share that interest because they don’t believe there will be a disaster.

Each side has to decide what it can live with – each needs to give serious thought to its BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). That’s where the 14th Amendment may have been of help to the President (see, House Democratic Leaders to Obama: Use the 14th Amendment). I’m not sure why he made it clear he wouldn’t go that route but there must have been a reason other than the stated one. Or perhaps there is some sort of arcane procedural anomaly they can find that will avert the need to reach agreement before August second. (see Jack Balkin’s post on that at Balkinization) And each side has to count votes and potential votes – identify those who may be persuaded and ask them what are the issues that will make the difference to them.

5. Much of the fighting seems to be based on different projections about the future based on the same facts. Are there negotiation techniques such as contingent concessions that could satisfy both side’s need to avoid catastrophe?

Frohlinger:  Usually identifying objective criteria and agreeing to use it to break a stalemate is a helpful technique but if one side won’t accept facts as such, it’s not going to work.

6. Does the side that refuses to compromise always win when someone has to blink?

Frohlinger:  Not necessarily – what if neither blinks? Then there will be no agreement. But in this situation, one side has offered many concessions but the other side has not accepted – and now the side that hasn’t accepted the concessions is pushing for even more concessions. The President, however, is in a more difficult situation because of his responsibility to lead the nation – the buck stops with him.

7. What if failure is what both parties want?

Frohlinger:  Failure is not want either wants – they are politicians and they know they will be evaluated by voters on how successful they are at getting it done.

8.Any other thoughts you have about ways to break the impasse with the least harm to the players and the economy?

Frohlinger:  Perhaps they might ask for counsel from women!

Carol Frohlinger

Known for her energy and informal style, groups to whom Carol Frohlinger has spoken include the Accenture Women Senior Executives Conference, the Atlanta Women’s Network, the Association of Financial Professionals, Ernst and Young, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG International, Howrey LLP, and the National Association of Women Lawyers.

Carol’s advice has been featured by NPR, Martha Stewart Living Radio and The New York Times among other mainstream media. An affiliated faculty member of the Simmons School of Management, Carol is a former sales executive, commercial banker and practicing attorney. She holds a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. 

Frohlinger is also a contributor to Forbes Work in Progress Blog.

Should Media Matters Lose Nonprofit Status for Fighting Fox?

Politico Arena question of the day really hit a nerve with me. We live in such a mediated society that there is no question the media forms us as it informs us. Nor is there any questions of Fox News’s slant. But ownership of the airwaves apparently isn’t enough for this greedy group. Read on, and then share your thoughts.

Arena Question: Fox News is ratcheting up its counterattack against Media Matters, a liberal advocacy group and the network’s most persistent critic. The news channel has recently run more than 30 segments calling for the nonprofit group to be stripped of its tax-exempt status.

Has Media Matter’s reporting on Fox been unfair? And should the self-proclaimed watchdog group lose its nonprofit status?

How I Answered: Oh good grief. Fox going after Media Matters reminds me of the time my sister complained to our mother that I had hit her back.

Fox is a corporate Goliath that uses its powerful franchise of the airways to skew public perception to advantage right-wing political power, and yet it has the hubris to call what it does “fair and balanced.” For giant Fox to attack the tax exempt status of its David-sized critic is as ludicrous as my sister’s complaint.

To begin with, as the legal experts have pointed out, there is the small point of free speech on the side of Media Matters. The Constitution applies regardless of whether an an organization is for profit or not. Equally important, it’s only fair and balanced that the left should have the opportunity to research and respond to news reportage, since in addition to the Fox behemoth, the right has funded nonprofit organizations that criticize the mainstream media for decades. In fact, these conservative groups have prevailed largely by intimidating journalists with the fear of being labeled “liberal” regardless of the veracity of their reportage. If Fox News is so sure of its reporting quality then it should have nothing to fear from its far less well-heeled critics. (NB: here’s one example of a correction of Fox’s fact mangling from Media Matters website.)

But then perhaps the big media bully remembers how the Biblical story ends.