IT WAS BASEBALL pioneer Satchel Paige who warned: "Don't look back. Something may be gaining on you."
In the wake of the midterm elections, that's one bit of advice that President Obama would do well to follow. If his presidency is to survive, he must look forward and must begin to make changes now.
But exactly what should Obama do, and how and why? Five simple suggestions:
1. Dump what's left of the Chicago Gang. Rahm Emanuel's departure was a good first step.
But too many others in the Chicago clique are still around. All pols like to be surrounded by trusted confidantes. In the rough-and-tumble world of politics, loyalty is an understandably treasured commodity.
But the president is different. He's the only public official directly elected by all the American people. Those around him must be attentive to the wide variety of views of a large, diverse society. The president's advisers must present a broad range options in open, vigorous debate.
So, it's time for David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett and Robert Gibbs to depart. They'd do the president a favor by making room for some fresh advisers. If they're unwilling to do that, they should be shown the door.
2. Lose the strut and the condescension. The president has a way of pushing himself up on the balls of his feet as he walks. I call it "the strut," and I suspect I'm not alone in finding it oft-putting. Along with this strut comes an air of condescension.
Mr. President, those who don't agree with you aren't your enemies. And they aren't misguided or distracted or paralyzed by fear or blinded by anger. (And they aren't necessarily clinging to guns and religion, either.)
When you dismiss or trivialize "we the people," you mock the very foundation of our democracy.
3. Get rid of the TelePrompTer.
The members of India's legislature were astonished to find Obama reading from it as he addressed them.
It was the first time the device had ever been used in India's Parliament House. As one Indian official put it: "We thought Obama is a trained orator and skilled in the art of mass address with his continuous eye contact."
We thought so, too. But the president simply can't seem to function without having his talking points projected in front of him. He's addicted.
Why? As someone who's written many speeches and teaches public speaking, I believe it's a sign of insecurity. When you have to use a TelePrompTer (and speak from a script), you're afraid of messing up.
If Obama is to be taken seriously, he must master the most common speaking style of the modern age, incorporating extemporaneous or impromptu remarks. If he can be clear and articulate without a manuscript, it will boost his credibility.
4. Bring the Grand Tour to a close. After the India trip, the president should stay home and tend to the problems at hand. That means bringing down the curtain on touring, and maybe even vacationing. It also means ending those frequent TV appearances. The president has been overexposed. It took us nearly eight years to develop Clinton fatigue. But Obama fatigue began to set in after only 18 months.
5. And speaking of Clinton, Obama should have a nice, long sit-down with the former president and elder statesman of the Democrats. Sixteen years ago, Clinton was in the same spot Obama finds himself in today.
Clinton faced a GOP House and Senate after the '94 Republican sweep that was one of the largest turnovers in history till now.
But with surprising speed, Clinton shook up his staff and moved toward the center. He listened to new people and embraced new ways. And he became a relatively popular two-term president. So call in Clinton. And sit down and listen.
Mr. President, follow these steps and don't look back.
Then, you won't have to worry about what's gaining on you.