The to-do list

How Barack Obama can salvage his second term as president

President Obama is under water. His approval in the polls is low and sinking, his signature initiative is staggering from a combination of incompetence and sabotage, his foreign policy is a jumble. Congress is a Bermuda Triangle where the most elementary White House business disappears. The public is numbed and disgusted. Allies are theatrically furious about eavesdropping. Put it this way: When the water-cooler buzz in Washington is focused on Obama's near-death experience in last year's campaign debates, it's pretty clear he is not setting the agenda.

I have a few suggestions for how Obama might lift his presidency up from the bottom. The to-do list that follows consists of ideas that are worth doing on the merits and advantageous on the politics. Most of them are familiar, because this is a time to revive the best features of a stalled presidency, not to launch grand new initiatives.

The first job is obvious, not least to the president. The bu-ngling of the healthcare rollout was a humiliation for an administration whose campaign wizards famously tamed the social network in 2012. It has gi-ven Republicans licence to feign indignation even as they do their best to undermine the new programme. I have no doubt that the administration will get the system working and that the programme will ultimately prove popular. But the longer it takes, the more the president squanders the already meagre public confidence that he can do anything right. If after a few more weeks the assembled experts are still struggling to make the website work, maybe it's time to redeploy some techies from the NSA.

Which brings me to... fire James Clapper. Dismissing Clapper, the director of national intelligence, is not a new idea. Better late than never. Obama should fire him not just because he lied, but also because Clapper has cast himself as the defender of the status quo, the apologist for excess. The president should draft someone widely viewed as tough-minded, clear-thinking and credible. With a change of leadership should come systemic reform to make the spy agencies more accountable.

... contd.

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