advice from a fake consultant

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On Hole Cards, Or, “Drill, Baby, Drill”? Why? Is Canada Out Of Sand? May 25, 2011

In America, today, there are three kinds of drivers: those who look at the other gas pumps down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much that guy’s spending on gas”, those who look at their own pump down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much I’m spending on gas” – and those who are doing both at the same time.

Naturally, this has brought the Sarah Palins of the world back out in public, and once again the mantra of “Drill, Baby, Drill” can be heard all the way from the Florida coast to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But what if those folks have it exactly backwards?

What if, in a world of depleting oil resources, the last thing you want to do is use yours up?

To put it another way: why isn’t all our oil part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

Consider the inexorable logic of the Big Lie. If a man has a consuming love for cats and dedicates himself to the protection of cats, you have only to accuse him of killing and mistreating cats. Your lie will have the unmistakable ring of truth, whereas his outraged denials will reek of falsehood and evasion.

–From the book Ghost of Chance, by William S. Burroughs

So here’s the thing: we produce a surprising amount of our own oil right here in the USA (in fact, we’re the world’s third-largest oil producer), but we don’t produce enough to cover our current use, and that’s why we import about half of the roughly 19 million barrels of oil we use daily. The vast majority of that is used in vehicles or for heating; almost none is used to generate electricity.

Our largest suppliers of oil, despite what you might think, are not all from the Middle East: instead, it’s Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Venezuela, in that order.

(Perhaps you’re thinking: “Canada? Oil?” Yes. Canada and Oil. They provide us with more than twice as much as Saudi Arabia from huge “oil sand” resources, primarily in Alberta; the exploitation of those resources has created a huge environmental controversy.)

Now if you ask me, an ideal situation would be one where we decided to get out of the business of using oil altogether – and to help make my point, we have some helpful numbers from a guy that you pay every day to figure this stuff out: Mark Doms; he’s the Chief Economist for the US Department of Commerce, and, to paraphrase Little Feat, he’s always handy with a chart.

According to Doms, 60% of our 2010 trade deficit (about $265 billion) represents the cost of imported petroleum products, and if things continue through December as they did the first three months of this year, in 2011 every American, man, woman, and child, will pay a “tax” of about $1000 to import all that petroleum.

Do you know what we, individually, spend on gas? In March of this year, the average household spent just over $300 on that month’s gasoline; 5 months ago that number was $56 lower. The way it works out, every time gas goes up 10¢ a gallon, it costs the average household another $7 a month.

And that’s not all: less than half of the total cost of imported oil is paid at the pump: about 44% of imported oil is used by businesses; another 15% is used by governments across the USA, and that means almost 60% of the cost of imported petroleum is “folded into” the price of everything else.

(A quick author’s note: you’ve seen the words “oil” and “petroleum” used liberally in this story; the exact literal reality is that in each instance we should really be referring to “petroleum products”, and that’s because we import and export not just crude oil, but a variety of other petroleum products. I get tired of using the phrase “petroleum products” over and over, and I’m probably using “oil” and “petroleum” more interchangeably than I should.)

So get this: if we were out of the importing oil business, we’d save about $300 billion a year – and as it turns out, over a 10-year period we could actually convert the entire US auto fleet to electric cars powered by windmills by providing $15,000 cash “buy-outs” for today’s 135,000,000 gasoline cars and building the wind generation and “smart grid” we’d need to support the effort…and doing all that would cost…wait for it…about $250 billion a year.

If I get the math right, 20 years after we first started building windmills and subsidizing cars, everything would be paid off; and every year after that the US economy would generate a $300 billion “profit” on our investment – unless the price of a barrel of oil goes up. If it does, the amount of money coming back to our wallets every single year from then on, obviously, also goes up.

And if we were out of the “using oil for driving” business, once everything was paid off we could put almost $4000 a year (in today’s dollars) right back in the pocketbooks of every family in this country – which, if you ask me, represents a pretty good “tax cut”.

Let’s also keep in mind that any new oil drilled on our public lands might not necessarily end up in the US; that’s because even if oil companies were 100% free to “Drill, Baby, Drill” in our waters to their hearts’ content…they’d also be perfectly free to sell as much of that same oil, anywhere in the world, to whatever entity might end up being the highest bidder – and today, our friends in places like India and China are desperate to be that high bidder.

Put all of this together, and you get back to the question I posed at the top of the story: why in the world would we be in a hurry to “Drill, Baby, Drill”, when we could, instead, put all our efforts into getting out of oil, which would save us so much money that the conversion pays for itself?

Then, when oil’s running $400 a barrel or so, let’s use our oil to pay China back the trillion dollars we owe ‘em…which, at current production rates, would only take about 400 days, assuming it were possible to divert all our production for that purpose.

To state it a bit more ironically, it may be that the smartest thing we can do right now is to conserve every possible drop of oil we have…until we don’t need it any more, and it becomes a sort of Strategic Cash Reserve that can help strengthen the dollar and reduce the national debt in the years to come, both at the same time.

Or to put it another way, the next time someone tells you they want to “Drill, Baby, Drill”…you can step right up, look them square in the eye, and ask: “Why do you hate America?”

And won’t that be fun?

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On Shame As A Tactic, Or, Betsie Gallardo: She Won…And So Can You! January 6, 2011

We have been following the story of Betsie Gallardo lately, she being the woman that, due to a medical decision, was being starved to death in a Florida prison.

She has inoperable cancer, her death is imminent, and her mother was working hard to make it possible for Betsie to die at home with some dignity.

As we reported just a couple days ago, half the battle was already won, as the Florida Department of Corrections had agreed to place her in a hospital so that she could again go back on nutritional support.

On January 5th, the Florida Parole Commission voted to allow her to end her life at home—and that means you spoke out, made a difference, and achieved a complete victory for the effort.

But even as we celebrate that victory, I think we should take a moment to realize that there is a bigger lesson here: the lesson that the fights over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), benefits for 9/11 first responders (the Zadroga Bill), and Betsie Gallardo’s imminent release are all actually pointing us to a political strategy that works, over and over, if we are willing to understand the wisdom that’s been laid before us.

Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff.
Under heaven everyone knows this,
Yet no one puts it into practice.

— From chapter 78 of the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu

So what do all three of those victories have in common?

Well, how about this: in every case, Those Proud And Courageous Conservatives found themselves too embarrassed to hold their ground, and once the bright light of public shame fell upon them, their high-minded opposition to three good things simply collapsed.

And that’s my underlying thesis for 2011 and the 112th Congress: shame and embarrassment, which don’t really seem like weapons at all, are in fact fantastically powerful when focused upon those who are trying to do wrong—and a small group of people, combining shame with a bit of imagination and effort, can crack apart even the most unyielding opposition when they embarrass the hell out of those on the other side.

Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” can very honestly point to the “weapon of mass embarrassment” they delivered just before Christmas as the final straw that broke the back of Republican obstructionism around the Zadroga Bill—and how many of you look at DADT and John McCain and see not a principled fighter for military tradition, but a sad old man who didn’t know when to go home to Arizona and take up sitting on the front porch?

For the next two years we are going to have the chance to apply this tactic over and over and over again—and we already have Republicans and Democrats alike lining up to cut your Social Security…even as they make sure their own “defined benefit” retirement is fully funded, at your expense…and that’s a great place from which to start hitting back.

And in this Congress, embarrassment and shame actually pile up, layer upon layer, to create an amazingly target-rich environment.

Here’s a great example: Fred Upton is the new Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees things like the regulation of offshore drilling and healthcare—and that’s because it was just too embarrassing to give the job to Texas’ Joe Barton…especially after he publicly apologized to BP for how tough we’ve been on them after that giant oil spill last summer.

So Fred has the new gig, and he’s all happy about that, and he’s appointed himself a Staff Director, a fella named Gary Andres.

Now there’s been a lot of talk that some of these Members of Congress might be a bit too associated with lobbyists…and the name seemed awfully familiar…so I decided to Google Andres…and sure enough, not only is he a healthcare lobbyist, in 2007 he was named by Politico as the Top Lobbyist In Washington, making him the first “Top Lobbyist” of the post-Abramoff era.

Andres, just to add to the layering, is upset that Obama is deploying an “Army of Lobbyists”, even though he himself wrote the book on lobbying, literally: “Lobbying Reconsidered: Politics Under the Influence” is available in many fine bookstores.

This seems like as good a time as any to bring today’s conversation to a close, so let’s see where we are:

Even as we celebrate Betsie Gallardo’s victory, which was at least partially obtained through the timely and well-directed application of shame and embarrassment, Conservatives are feeling awfully full of themselves, despite the fact that they were embarrassed into caving on so many things so quickly in the past month.

They will set themselves up for lots more shame and scorn…I promise…and if we step up and focus the larger public on how shameful these folks are going to be, day after day after day, we can stop things like the upcoming raping of your Social Security in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, or any of the other 100 similar kinds of changes our opponents hope to enact, by hook or by crook.

So there you go, America: we have fish, and we have barrels, and if we can’t shut these folks down, then we have only ourselves to blame—and if that were to happen, then the only people who should truly be ashamed and embarrassed…will be us.

 

On Pushing The Unwilling, Or, Laughter: A Tool Of Asymmetric Warfare? December 9, 2010

So here it is, almost halfway through this President’s first term, and it’s starting to become abundantly clear that there is no way Obama is going to pursue the same agenda that he ran on in 2008.

In fact, as the President announces a deal that even he agrees the majority of the American people do not support, and he prepares the Nation for the news that we’re going to have to borrow money for the very tax cuts he said we couldn’t afford a few weeks ago, it’s starting to look like Obama isn’t even going to pursue the same agenda he campaigned for in October.

Now it is true that a lot of the problem here is the President’s—but it’s also fair to say that we Progressives have failed to force the President, and certain reluctant Members of Congress, to govern in a way that promotes that agenda.

That’s a real problem, and it needs a real solution; before we get done today I’ll offer a suggestion that could be not only highly effective, and a lot of fun besides, but a great chance to release your artistic muse as well.

“…Private Pyle has dishonored himself, and dishonored the platoon. I have tried to help him, but I have failed. I have failed because you have not helped me. You people have not given Private Pyle the proper motivation.”

–R. Lee Ermey, as “Sergeant Hartman”, from the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket.

Now before we go any further, a quick comment on that Presidential news conference: if this President was this passionate about his positions before he made deals with his opponents, maybe he wouldn’t have to pick so many fights with his own side…and, to use his own words, he wouldn’t have to do so much “negotiating with hostage takers”. But then again…what do I know?

And speaking of fights: we assume there will be no effort, in the 112th Congress, to advance “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, because this President is unlikely to want to pick a fight with Republicans, and Democrats no longer have the ability to control the House legislative calendar.

We will probably be pressured by our Republican friends to make some decision about Social Security, right now (well, in 2011, anyway), and we can assume that among the demands they’ll make will be to raise the retirement age and break the connection between the cost of living adjustment and the actual rise in the cost of living.

And it wouldn’t surprise me if this President also finds himself forced to make unwanted compromises on health care; all of this because the House threatens to refuse to fund something else that he wants at the time.

And all of that means we’ll constantly be “fighting to catch up”, instead of framing the messages and defining the issues ourselves—and that means we’ll always be facing a tactical disadvantage.

However, it may be that there’s another answer to be found—and it’s possible that the answer might be found in, of all places, Bhopal, India.

It was in Bhopal that Union Carbide’s Indian subsidiary operated a chemical plant that produced the pesticides Sevin and Temik. The process to make Sevin involved the use of chlorine, methyl isocyanate gas, and phosgene, which makes either a dandy reactive compound for industrial use or a dandy nerve gas, depending on how it’s applied.

Over the evening, as December 2, 1984 turned into December 3rd, some or all of these gases leaked from the plant into the neighborhood that had sprung up around the plant (that’s the bad way to apply phosgene); it’s estimated by the local government that 3787 people died that night. Others have estimated that as many as 15,000 died as a result of the events of that evening. Almost 575,000 people were compensated for losses related to the event.

Many are frustrated that neither “American” Union Carbide nor Dow Chemical, who eventually absorbed the company, have ever stepped up to acknowledge their own liability…but on the 20th anniversary of the leak, a window of opportunity had appeared, thanks to a realistic looking fake website that “reframed” Dow’s intentions in a subtle, but very unflattering manner.

That website got “Jude Finisterra”, a fake Dow representative, invited on BBC World Television, where he fake announced that Dow was now going to take full responsibility for the disaster and begin cleaning up the site and providing the medical care that the survivors could badly use.

Naturally, this forced Dow to publicly come forward and deny the whole thing, which created lots of new awareness around the issue.

This “identity correction” tactic is the specialty of “The Yes Men”, who have also done this to the WTO, when they fake proposed slavery for Africa at a Wharton Business School conference they got themselves invited to, and to Exxon, when they posed as Company representatives attending a Canadian energy conference and distributed “Vivoleum” candles, which was a proposed new fuel made from the human bodies of the victims of climate change.

And it’s not just The Yes Men who are following this path of “awareness refocusing”:

Remember “Billionaires for Bush?” (“Make Social Security Neither!”) They were a very effective visible image that made the Bush folks look like what they really were—and when people saw them marching, they got the point.

Why isn’t Sarah Palin Vice-President today?
Tina Fey clearly deserves at least some of the credit.

So how do we apply this kind of thinking to our current problems?

Well…suppose you live in Oklahoma. Why not put on a “Coburn For Global Warming” BBQ, with blackened birds and burned corn? Then get the video out to the Web—and if you do it right, you’ve got a shot at getting noticed nationally.

Do it every month, maybe even with new victims (“Oklahomans For 1959!”) and it becomes a symbol both the Republicans, and the national media, will find harder and harder to ignore.

Texas? How about an LBGT “Big Bad John” Cornyn drillteam that follows the Senator to public appearances and campaigns for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell—and then moves on to address the Senator’s unwillingness to tackle the bullying issue?

Feel like doing something for the unemployed in Ohio? Why not organize a “Where’s My Job, John?” campaign to start sending thousands upon thousands of job applications to John Boehner’s offices in West Chester and Troy…and then, start dropping by in groups, cameras in hand, to check on the status of your applications?

By the way: this kind of project would be a great way for someone to “organize with allies”, and if there’s a labor union or social justice activism group or loosely organized gang of Merry Pranksters around you might want to make an effort at email and in-person contacts to see if you can grow the impact of the idea.

Do you live in the Bible Belt? How about taking the cameras to a megachurch with your petition to ban divorce in order to protect the sanctity of marriage?

Arizona? How about “Tamale Tuesday” immigration reform parties at John Kyl’s and John McCain’s and Jan Brewer’s offices, with dozens or hundreds of Hispanics and friends showing up every week to make the point that political power in Arizona ain’t always lily-white.

Are you Liberal and live in Mississippi?

Well…you may have to move.

But what about all that buildup where you were talking about pushing the President back on a leftward tack?

Ok…how about this: set yourself up with a couple of desks in a very public place, with a “rope line” in front so that it looks like a bank line.

Then use a “greeter” to grab members of the public and get them to “apply” for the loans that we’ll have to take out to pay for the tax cuts for the rich.

Do that, or something along the same lines, somewhere in Washington, DC—or do it in a bunch of cities, either all at once or “tour style”, meaning week after week after week—and all of a sudden it’s a lot tougher for Obama and reluctant Congresscritters to ignore the symbolism, and, once again, Americans get a bit of their voice back.

Of course, the big trick here is to get ahead of the issues, not to have to constantly react to constant attacks—but the way to do that is to get behind an issue with a strong symbolic campaign (and the more absurd the thing is that needs the reform the better) and repeat the reform message so often that it becomes absurd not to support reform, placing the opponents on the defensive, and forcing them to become the ones reacting to events, instead of driving the narrative.

So how about that?

We do have tools, even in unlikely places, that can apply some of the proper motivation to this President and the reluctant Members of Congress, and they’re the kinds of tools that can be used by a few people or hundreds.

And I think we have reached the point where it’s become clear that, without constant outside pressure from us, we cannot depend on this President or many of those who represent us in the Houses of Congress to promote a Progressive agenda.

It’s true: we are going to have to be the ones who force what we want out of these people…and if it takes a whole lot of comedic embarrassment to drag them along, kicking and screaming, to join the effort to advance the Progressive agenda…then let’s get to it, let’s get creative about how we do it—and most importantly of all, let’s create a situation where the political risk of fighting for causes that work against the American people becomes more costly than fighting for the American people.

 

Social Security: They Want To Cut, We Plan To Fight November 10, 2010

So if you’ve been following my work lately, you know that there is a renewed effort underway to change Social Security, and that the fight officially began just this very morning.

Now what’s supposed to happen is that a television ad buy sponsored by a Wall Street billionaire is supposed to get you enthused about cutting your own Social Security benefits in the future; this is the tip of a “disinformation iceberg” that is trying to get you to act, right now, because if you don’t you will never, ever, ever, ever, see a single dime of Social Security when you get older.

I was on a “let’s talk strategy” conference call today that laid out some ideas for the “next steps”; we’ll be talking about that call over the next couple of stories…but for today, we’re going to talk about something you can do that will bring the message right to your favorite Member of Congress.

He is always plotting and carrying out great enterprises, which have always kept his subjects bewildered and astonished, waiting to see what their outcome would be. And his deeds have followed one another so closely that he has never left space between one and the next for people to plot uninterruptedly against him.

–Niccolò Machiavelli, describing King Ferdinand of Aragon, in The Prince

With the election a week behind us, the fight is on to get you to believe that you will never see a dime of Social Security, that the danger is so profound that we must act today, and that maybe a healthy cut in your future benefits isn’t really so bad after all.

To help convince you all this is true, a series of TV ads have been produced that imply that the only other solution, short of those benefit cuts, is more deficit spending and endless borrowing. (They have a catchy name for the effort as well: “OweNo”.)

As it turns out, that’s patently untrue, but as I said, that’s a topic for another day.

The idea behind the ads, of course, is to create a space for Members of Congress to vote for these kinds of proposals—but we’re going to strike first, before the ads can really gain a lot of traction.

So here’s the idea: we all have Members who are constantly having to “come home and face the District”; what we want to do is ask those Members, right now, on camera, if they are willing to vote for cutting Social Security benefits or not.

Myself, I like the question: “Are there any circumstances that would get you to vote for cutting Social Security benefits?”

If they say yes, try this: “Why do you like cutting benefits for middle-class people and not taxing 90% of the income of someone who makes a million a year?”

(If you make about $110,000 a year or less, 100% of your income is taxed for Social Security purposes. However, no income above that is taxed—so if you make a million a year, only 10% of your income is taxed, which seems a lot like “trickle up economics” to me…but what do I know?

As it turns out, removing that “income cap”, all by itself, would fix our financing problem for the next 75 years, without cutting benefits at all—again, a topic we’ll flesh out more completely another day.)

Now once we start gathering all these videos, we need a place to put them. Based on the call today, it looks like we’ll be going to the Owe No You Don’t! website, which, by a happy coincidence, is full of helpful resources for those looking to win this fight. The site is not ready to receive the videos today, however, but I will either update here or do a new story to let you know when it is, or if some new plans have emerged.

(Of course, if you get a good video, don’t be afraid to post it to this story as a comment as well.)

I also have available a big ol’ list of who in Congress has publicly said and done what regarding changes to these programs—and if you’re wondering exactly who in Congress supports privatizing Social Security, this is the list you’ve been looking for.

The next step is to put all this video to work: so how about starting right in your own home town? Send a copy of the video to the local newspaper, or the local TV station’s “tip line”. In the other direction, I’m going to try to encourage the folks operating Owe No You Don’t! (with whom I’m currently working) to use that video to get the attention of national media—which means video of Members “ducking and dodging” will be particularly valuable.

You might even get lucky and get a “Sharron Angle”—you know, the one where the person being asked just runs off without even acknowledging that they’re being asked questions, even though you’re right there next to them the whole time, following them and still asking the question, as they hop in the car and run away in fear.

So that’s today’s homework: charge up the camera batteries, go find your local Member of Congress, either pay a friendly visit at the office or catch ‘em at a local appearance, and make them either answer questions or run away.

As we gather the videos, they become a media attraction, and we put even more pressure on these folks…and if we get really, really, really, lucky, we’ll find someone who “autotunes” the Members who run away into a viral video we’ll all be proud of.

Good hunting to you all, and in a couple days we’ll all meet back here and talk about the Social Security “tax cap” and financing stability.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

 

Social Security: The War Begins Tuesday, And You Better Say…Oh, No! November 7, 2010

It is my job to bring to you not just the news that took place, but the news that has yet to happen.

Today, that’s exactly what we have.

There is a war coming to try to change Social Security from a social safety net to a “revenue stream” for certain corporate interests, and that war is set to begin Tuesday morning, according to information that was provided to me yesterday afternoon.

Follow along, and you’ll be both forewarned and forearmed.

BIG MISTAKE
MANY MAKE
RELY ON HORN
INSTEAD OF
BRAKE

BURMA SHAVE

–Actual “Burma Shave” Message, 1945, from Verse By The Side of the Road, Frank Rowsome, Jr.

So here’s the dish: a limited partnership corporation called The Blackstone Group, through years of trading in real estate, operating hedge funds, giving financial advice to other companies and governments, and buying and selling companies (Hilton Hotels is one of theirs, the company that makes Corexit, the oil dispersant, is another), made its co-founder and former Chairman Peter G. Peterson a more-than-billionaire; a billion of that went to endow a Foundation that bears his name.

The Foundation has a particular interest in things budgetary and governmental, and they are seen as one of the groups most looking to change the way Social Security works today.

(Change, you say? Indeed, and if you’ve been following this series of stories, you already have an idea of what that might entail.)

The next thing you need to know is that there is a Great Big Deal Presidential Commission currently at work who is charged with identifying…

“…policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run. Specifically, the Commission shall propose recommendations designed to balance the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015. This result is projected to stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio at an acceptable level once the economy recovers. The magnitude and timing of the policy measures necessary to achieve this goal are subject to considerable uncertainty and will depend on the evolution of the economy. In addition, the Commission shall propose recommendations that meaningfully improve the long-run fiscal outlook, including changes to address the growth of entitlement spending and the gap between the projected revenues and expenditures of the Federal Government.”

…and that the Commission is going to deliver a report with its suggestions December 1st.

It would be fair to say that there are those who are concerned that “the fix is in”, so to speak, and that the report will be the beginning of an effort to privatize Social Security…and guess what?

Managing the Federal Government’s Social Security money, for a handsome fee, would be a spectacular business opportunity for Pete Peterson and The Blackstone Group, and to help create the environment where that can happen, the Peterson Foundation is dropping $20 million on a TV ad campaign to try to convince you to get interested in privatizing Social Security, too.

This Tuesday morning, November 9th, Peterson will appear at Washington, DC’s Newseum to unveil the advertising campaign, presumably to the delight of the assembled throng and the sipping of the coffee of the assembled media; this according to a Peterson Foundation press release that came across my desk yesterday.

There’s even a catchy name for the reform program: “OweNo”…and if you’ve already written your own “Oh, No!” Social Security joke, you’re apparently a bit faster on your feet than the guy who tried to sell Chevy Novas in Spanish-speaking countries…or the folks who came up with this catch phrase.

So that’s the story: come Tuesday, Pete Peterson, with a presonal fortune that comes from a Big Fat Wall Street Firm That Would Love To Manage Your Money For Big Fat Fees, is dropping $20 million to tell you that it’s time to “get a Chilean”…and I’m here to tell you that such a procedure is going to hurt your wallet, a lot—and when it’s all over, you’re the one who’s going to be saying “Oh, No!”

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

 

On Understanding Your Market, Or, Mr. Obama, We Need To Talk September 9, 2009

So it’s the day of the big speech, Mr. President, and we got trouble with a capital “T” right here in Health Care City.

What are you gonna do? Do we follow the traditional Democratic Party legislative process of passing…something…at any cost, assuming the entire time that the Left and the Netroots will “go along with the program”, or is there a risk that the calculus doesn’t work as well today as it did in 1994 and 1996?

Well, lucky for you, I’m a fake consultant, and I know a few things about your “target market”, so before you answer that question…we need to talk.

So the common sense approach to handling this situation is to make any deal required to get a bill passed, because otherwise your entire Presidency will be tagged as “strong on oratory but unable to govern”. Since the Far Left supports Democrats today and won’t be supporting the Republican Party under any circumstances, they’ll have no choice but to follow the “centrist” (read: “bluedog”) Democratic lead.

What you don’t want to do, common sense tells us, is demand that reform contain elements that simply are too tough to get through Congress. Insisting on a public option is absolutely out of the question, the new “preexisting conditions” requirements would be too onerous on the insurance companies—and requiring everyone to purchase insurance, with no public option competition at all to moderate the prices private insurers charge, and, for that matter, no guarantee of universal coverage, somehow makes perfect sense.

To mollify those who will object, we can hold out “triggers” as a compromise: in other words, Government says “hey, let’s wait a few years, and if the insurance companies still haven’t changed their ways…then we’ll do something.”

If you decide upon this approach, then the speech you want to give is to remind the Far Left and those pesky bloggers that political progress is incremental, you take what you can get, and that we can always come back later and make this whole stew of compromise better than what we propose to cook today.

While that’s a pretty good approach…most of the time…it won’t be this time.

There are two major reasons why, and, ironically, they’re both derived from your success in 2008.

Right off the bat, this strategy assumes the millions of new voters—and even more importantly, donors—that you attracted in 2008 are Democrats, and that, no matter what, they will continue to support Democrats. The problem is, they’re not….and they won’t.

Why? Because the vast majority of those new voters weren’t “redirected” from another Democratic candidate. Instead, they were “political non-participants” who had previously held no political affiliation whatsoever—and other than supporting you personally, the vast majority of those new voters have no long-term political affiliation now, other than, perhaps, “Progressive”.

The only reason they voted for you in the first place was because you were out promoting that whole “change you can believe in” thing. They saw you on TV telling people that universal access to care “…is a moral responsibility and a right for our country…”, and saying you would:

“…set up a government plan that would allow people who otherwise don’t have health insurance because of a preexisting condition, like my mother had, or at least what the insurance said was a preexisting condition, let them get health insurance”.

At that same evening’s event (the Democratic Presidential Debate of January 31, 2008), they also saw you say this:

“…because my view is that the reason people don’t have health care… [w]hat they’re struggling with is they can’t afford the health care. And so I emphasize reducing costs. My belief is that if we make it affordable, if we provide subsidies to those who can’t afford it, they will buy it.

Senator Clinton…believes that we have to force people who don’t have health insurance to buy it. Otherwise, there will be a lot of people who don’t get it.

…I think that it is important for us to recognize that if, in fact, you are going to mandate the purchase of insurance and it’s not affordable, then there’s going to have to be some enforcement mechanism that the government uses. And they may charge people who already don’t have health care fines, or have to take it out of their paychecks. And that, I don’t think, is helping those without health insurance.”

The fact that you said all those things brings us to problem number two: if you don’t live up to your…exceptionally public…campaign promises, you’re gonna get YouTubed.

Forget about the Republicans. The Netroots will dig these quotes up in about two seconds—in multi-part harmony, I suspect—and all of a sudden, all those “new voters” who helped put you over the top last time, instead of seeing change they can believe in, are going to start seeing you as the “same old same old”…and if that happens, they won’t be voting Democratic again (or for anyone else, for that matter) for years to come.

And if they won’t vote for you…they most assuredly won’t be giving money to Democratic causes and candidates…including you in 2012.

You have to understand, it’s a question of trust. We want to believe that you’ll do the right thing, but we have been lied to for eight years straight…and we now fundamentally mistrust our elected representatives…including you.

Not all the news here, however, is bad news.

There is a way to turn all this to your advantage, and it basically involves “leapfrogging” the opposition.

Here’s what you do:

In the speech tonight, you look America in the eye and you tell us that you said all along that we must have a public option if we hope to control costs, you tell us that insurers can’t continue to “exclude” us out of insurance, and that universal coverage is, indeed, a moral obligation for our Nation—and a smart investment to boot.

Tell America that you will fight for them and against the special interests that are trying to hustle us once again. Most importantly—and this will be The Tough Part—tell us that a bad bill is a bill you won’t sign.

You have to tell America that if we don’t get it this year, we’ll have to come back next year and try again. And if we have to, the year after that, and the next, and the next.

You also get to remind America exactly what kind of methods Republicans were wiling to use to advance their position over this past month, and whose interests they’re representing when they do it.

To put it another way, you gave ‘em enough rope, and now it’s time for some noose-tightenin’.

The best part: not only does this approach lay to waste Republican opposition, it reels in the wavering Democrats—and it allows them to go home and tell their constituents that “Barack Obama and I are fighting for people and businesses and jobs while Republicans fight for fat cat insurance companies”.

If it’s done correctly, the 2010 midterms will be y’all’s to lose—but as I said earlier, if you are seen as selling a political product everyone’s seen far too many times before, the cost could be brutal…maybe even “President Palin” brutal.

We all have a busy day today, especially you, Mr. President, so let’s wrap it all up:

You made a lot of campaign promises about public options and universal coverage and ending exclusion abuses, and now it’s come time to make good.

A lot of the people who supported you didn’t do it because you’re a Democrat—and not because they are, either. If you don’t make good, you got a problem, and so do the Democrats, possibly for years to come.

YouTube was a fantastic tool for you and the seed of trouble for many Republicans in ’06 and ’08—but if you’re not careful, the tables will turn, and a lot of the people doing the turning will be to your left.

Do it right and you and the Democrats have a superb opportunity to pivot on the opposition and imprint the Democratic “brand” for a new generation of voters—and donors—and an aggressive approach tonight could be the opening salvo of a message barrage that either forces Republicans to become more moderate, or turns them into a crazier political movement that loses seats and Governors in 2010 and carries even fewer states in the 2012 Presidential than they did in 2008.

Screw it up, and even Tina Fey might not be able to save us from the wrath of “Palin/Gingrich 2012”.