After a Lousy Year, How Obama Can Turn His Presidency Around

The president needs to start by making some big changes at the White House, by showing Valerie Jarrett and Kathleen Sebelius the door. Then he’s got to take a hard look in the mirror.

As we reflect on 2013 and look forward to resolutions for the new year, I can’t help but think about the important steps President Obama needs to take upon his return to Washington, D.C. Critics will say I have the Republican Party’s best interests in mind—I have the best interests of our country in mind.

As we begin the sixth year of the Obama era, the White House press corps remains more interested in how events affect the president—approval ratings, political strength, etc.—rather than how his actions affect the citizens he was elected to serve. This is an important distinction and one that has been ignored, in favor of portraying the man in a positive light. It is long overdue for the media to examine the president’s policies for their effect on Americans and those around the world, rather than just Obama personally.

Since the White House press corps is either unable or unwilling to do its job, I can offer the following guidance to President Obama on how best he can turn around his presidency while putting the best interests of America first:

Fire Valerie Jarrett and Reshuffle the White House Staff

Similar to his predecessor in office, Obama appears loath to fire his White House staff. This is wrong, particularly since those who are closest to the president are in the best position to present news the occupant of the Oval Office wants to hear the least. Is anyone doing this for Obama?

Valerie Jarrett is the president’s closest political adviser as well as a close friend of first lady Michelle Obama. Reports persist that White House staff are afraid of presenting information to the president that might upset Jarrett—information that might enable Obama to receive a more accurate picture of a dilemma before making a decision.

The president needs to send a message to his inner circle as well as the American people that he is singularly focused on bringing in the best and the brightest—those with Chicago political connections should be on notice. The White House is insular to begin with; surrounding yourself with people seeking to curry favor are doing the country a disservice. Incompetence has been tolerated by this president for far too long. Better to bring out the broom and start sweeping some folks out.

When I was sworn in as special assistant to President Bush, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card reminded me that I served at the pleasure of the president for the time being—both the pleasure and the time being could end before I wanted them to. Service in the White House is meant to be temporary and focused on the business of the American people. I found knowing that you could be fired at any moment for any reason keeps one’s mind strongly on the task at hand. Dear White House Staff: You serve the American people first. You should know when it is time for you to go and allow someone with a fresh perspective to take your place.

A brief aside: National Security Adviser Susan Rice telling CBS News’s Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes this week that the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, was a “false controversy” is revealing. Does this reflect the president’s view or does he have an atmosphere in the White House where this line of thinking is encouraged? Whatever one’s thoughts on Benghazi, the death of innocent Americans murdered while serving their country is hardly a false controversy, Mr. President.

Fire Kathleen Sebelius and Anyone Not Up to the Task in the Cabinet

The Affordable Care Act was to be President Obama’s signature achievement. It has since turned into his singular political albatross. We’ll leave the prevarications the president told for a different time. Here, it is inconceivable that the Health and Human Services secretary had three and a half years to be ready for Americans to reliably review and enroll in health plans of their choosing. Sebelius either knew the website was ready for prime-time or she didn’t. Neither choice is comforting and she needs to tender her resignation.

If the secretary was aware there would be significant trouble with the website prior to the Oct. 1 deadline, it was her obligation to warn the president of the ramifications for the American people. There is no public indication Sebelius did so—in fact, there is only one meeting on record between the president and the one Cabinet official charged with the implementation of Obamacare. This is frightening in and of itself.

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On the other hand, if Sebelius was unaware that the HHS Web portal couldn’t reliably process sensitive consumer information, she needs to be sacked. What has she been doing all of these years? A new leader is required in the new year to dig out from the rubble of the Obamacare disaster.

Accept You’re Part of the Problem

For his entire career, Obama has been in a hurry—in a rush to get elected to the Illinois state senate, then the U.S. Senate, then president of the United States. There is no indication he has reflected on any of his experiences in office to address the challenges and opportunities presented by his current occupation.

This would require the president to admit that he has made mistakes—we all do.

I found it revealing that Obama offered the following last week when asked to describe his biggest mistake of the year: “I think that, hopefully, folks have learned their lesson in terms of brinkmanship, coming out of the government shutdown.” So the president’s biggest error had nothing to do with the president himself? Not the bungled Obamacare rollout, the wavering red line in Syria, NSA surveillance scandal, or IRS controversy?

The president has a narrow window to turn his presidency around before people conclude he is a lame duck and no longer relevant. Mr. Obama, it is in America’s best interest for you to drastically change your approach to governance, to provide confidence to your constituents at home as well as those watching around the world that you are up to the task of governing.

Are you?