Maureen Dowd’s recent article – prompted by the First Lady’s recent trip overseas – wondered aloud why First Lady Michelle Obama has been missing in action at times during President Obama’s toughest days this year. Over the course of his presidency, Mr. Obama has had a lot to answer for to the media and, most forcefully, his Republican critics. His stimulus plan hasn’t worked to the point that there are now discussions brewing about a second stimulus package. The White House’s response to the oil crisis has dogged by all sides due to slow response times and off-and-on drilling moratoriums. Even the legendary suaveness of “No Drama Obama” from the 2008 campaign days hit a snag during episodes such as the Henry Louis Gates “Beer Summit” situation from last year and the heightened partisan sparring going on nationally.
One thing that he should not have to answer for, however, is for the First Lady’s recent trip overseas – not if the Republicans want to continue the momentum.
Just as the North Carolina GOP did during the 2008 presidential primaries with its infamous “God D**n America” political advertisement centering on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright at a time when then-Senator Obama provided other political fodder to avoid the Wright-racism controversy (e.g., Obama’s “guns and religion” quote was only weeks old in comparison to Wright’s years-old sermon), the Republican have to be mindful of not overreaching for political ammunition at a time when Americans are leaning towards voting Republican anyway.
It is an understandable temptation facing the Republicans to become politically over-exuberant with the elections rapidly approaching. Chairman Michael Steele noted correctly during the RNC’s Summer Meetings that it was just a short time ago that the GOP was considered a lost political cause that some joked was destined to go the way of the Whig Party. Now, the party is on the brink of reclaiming control on Capitol Hill in some significant capacity only two years after a supermajority was secured by Democrats in the Senate to go along with the power they held in the House of Representatives. A lagging economy and White House economic (e.g., 2009 unemployment projections before the stimulus), social (e.g., the “Beer Summit” and the Salahi and Michaele Salahi White House party crashing incident), and racial (e.g., the Shirley Sherrod incident) missteps have created this opportunity, but Republicans risk steps to close the window of opportunity if they are unable to keep their finger on the pulse of the American people.
For example, Americans agree with Republicans regarding the amounts of spending coming out during this electoral term. However, Republican grandstanding by senators such as Jim Bunning (R-KY) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) against deficit spending for unemployment benefits during this tragic period of high national unemployment – only to inconsistently argue for extending deficit-impacting tax cuts instituted by President Bush years before this recession – causes conservatives to lose credibility with swing voters. The current Republican argument modifying the 14th Amendment to address the concerns of “anchor babies” seems hollow when contrasted against the backdrop of conservatives’ grassroots calls for less-intrusive and more traditional, Constitutionally-based government. The last thing that Republican can do is overreach on trivial matters such as the First Lady’s spending overseas as they try to make the point of out-of-control spending, especially as Democrats are actively trying to remind voters of the controlling party when this cycle of large spending increases started in the first place.
Republicans will not be able to hold the political and moral high ground for voters in November if they are willing to continue a scatter-shot approach to messaging in attempts to win as many voters as possible. Mrs. Obama’s trip overseas – on the taxpayers’ dime – is ill-timed from a public relations standpoint, but there is a greater point that Republicans cannot overlook while scurrying for political fodder. Americans want focus from their political leaders – namely, focus on the most relevant issues facing the nation. This lack of focus on the most critical matters facing Americans in 2009 – matters such as unemployment and homeland security – prompted the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda to push for an unpopular health care package as terror acts were narrowly avoided on American soil and as unemployment resides around 10% for that same period. This lack of focus has also contributed to the division we find throughout America today. It is a fractionalized state that the Republican Party can ill-afford to take on now, even as they overcome the recent in-fighting going on within the GOP ranks to position themselves for a major comeback this fall.
However, that comeback depends on whether the Republicans in leadership choose to “take the bait” on media-driven items such as Mrs. Obama’s trip. The First Lady’s tour may be an irritant for many Americans, but the unemployment situation and national nervousness is more than just some sore spot. With focus, the Republicans will change how Washington looks in January. Without focus – and with too much attention on things such as presidential vacations – the GOP risks overreach and, thus, possibly overlooking the chance to reconnect with an electorate many thought that they lost for good just two years ago.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the author of the book, “Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative,)” purchased online at www.tinyurl.com/lennysdiary and www.amazon.com. He will be featured on “Fox News Strategy Room” Tuesday, August 10 during the 10 AM segment. Follow him at www.twitter.com/lennyhhr and on Facebook at www.tinyurl.com/lennyfacebook .