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Democratic strategists tell Obama: 'reset and start over'

Democratic strategists James Carville and Stanley Greenberg say President Obama should admit mistakes and clearly lay out a plan going forward.

Democratic pollster and political strategist Stanley Greenberg advises President Obama to acknowledge his mistakes and hit the reset button.

Going into 2011, the Obama White House should drop the message that policies may be poorly understood but are succeeding, two top Democratic consultants said.

Instead, Democratic strategists James Carville and Stanley Greenberg said President Obama should admit mistakes and clearly lay out a plan going forward without trying so hard to sell his successes. Both men were the guests at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters in Washington.

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During the run up to the 2010 election, voters in focus groups “would get mad” when confronted with the administration message that its policies were working, Mr. Carville said. The CNN commentator and Tulane University professor ran President Clinton’s 1992 election campaign.

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Most political messaging “goes in one ear and out the other. This one went in one ear and right to the brain. What were they thinking? It was almost universal," Carville said.

In fact, Mr. Greenberg noted, when various Democratic messages were tested with focus groups during the 2010 campaign, “any framework tested better than trying to make the case for success.”

As the White House retools politically for 2011 and beyond, “I don’t think there is any reason why you can’t reset and start over. I think he can say, got it wrong. Not necessarily in the speech. But voters actually are pretty forgiving on leaders who indicate that they have learned something,” said Greenberg, Chairman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Greenberg served as President Clinton's pollster.

One factor in President Obama’s favor, Greenberg said, is that “there is still a large majority here who want Obama to succeed. I think there is a lot of space to acknowledge mistakes or … talk about learning and what you learned from it. I think there is an opportunity to talk about the scale of the crisis and the challenge ahead. I think you can lay out the plan going forward. You don’t think you need to make much of a case for success. You need to focus on where you are going and it is very different from where the Republicans are going."