President Obama has reached a historic inflection point that poses great peril to his presidency.
He does not have a public relations problem or a political problem. He has a governing problem and a credibility problem.
If he addresses these effectively, which will require changing the management paradigm of his presidency, the public relations and political problems will solve themselves, and his presidency will be rejuvenated.
Virtually every major player in official Washington believes this. They rarely say it. I just did. No, I do not believe the Obama presidency is finished. No, I do not believe he is a lame duck. If Democrats regain the House and keep the Senate, the president's stock will soar.
No, I do not believe the president is particularly threatened by a Republican Party whose favorable rating is 9 percent in Congress.
Yes, as I wrote in my last column that Obama can rise again but — and this is a huge but — he can only rise again if he is clear-eyed, understanding and forceful about what he needs to do.
Incremental change will not be enough. Bold moves are mandatory. Obama needs a significant White House staff shake-up that brings highly credible and vastly experienced hands to the center of his government, including as White House chief of staff. He should bring in highest-level hands with vast experience such as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), former presidential counselor David Gergen and former senator and long time Kennedy aide Paul Kirk (D-Mass.).
He might bring in former Secretary of State Colin Powell, perhaps as an outside adviser with a strong operational role to champion programs to create jobs and help the poor and hungry.
These names are illustrative. There are others who could fill these roles. Obama is the president of the United States and commander in chief, and if he asked for help from these people and offered real authority to these people, they are patriotic and would respond.
No, I am not suggesting anyone be fired or treated as a scapegoat. I have high regard for White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, who should always play an invaluable role. I just believe the chief of staff position at this moment would best be held by the highest-level official the president can attract. And I believe, moreover, that vastly experienced hands should be brought in to complement the current staff.
Obama needs to break the paradigm of insularity of his administration and substitute a new paradigm that reaches out and builds new bridges, seeks new advice, brings new credibility and adds new clout to his government.
It would be useful for the president to hold periodic meetings with former White House chiefs of staff to Democratic and Republican presidents alike. Any president would do well by seeking private counsel from James Baker, Howard Baker, Leon Panetta, Erkskine Bowles, Ken Duberstein and John Podesta.
Americans believe, correctly, that their government is dysfunctional. They believe, correctly, that small interests often rule the day in Washington. They question in large numbers the competence and credibility of their president, and they hold in near universal contempt the their Congress.
If Obama reaches out, and reaches higher, and brings in the best people to the center of his government, his presidency would be rejuvenated. He would no longer be viewed as one of the problems. He will would viewed as the leader who offers the solution.