Despite the endlessly fawning praise by the media whose skills happen to be in grinding out news reports and not in public speaking, Obama isn’t the world’s greatest orator. How hard could it be to imitate the cadences of 1960s civil rights leaders and evangelical preachers to convert a political rally into a frenzied revival meeting?
Plus, the supposed great orator now occupying the White House reads from a teleprompter the inspiring words of Jon Favreau, known worldwide for a Facebook photo of his drunken groping of a cardboard cutout of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In impromptu speaking, the new president begins by commanding us to “Listen” and proceeds to “and, uh” his way to completing each supposedly well-formed sentence. By the way, why do my friends consider it an occasion for celebration that our president can speak in complete sentences? The anomaly of George W. Bush aside, shouldn’t we take for granted that our national leaders will have mastered at least eighth grade communication skills?
In light of the above, it’s not surprising the headline for Jeanne Cummings’ post at Politico this morning reads: Obama Losing the Stimulus Message War. Cummings writes:
At this crucial juncture in the push to pass an economic recovery package, President Obama finds himself in the most unlikely of places: He is losing the message war.
Despite Obama’s sky high personal approval ratings, polls show support has declined for his stimulus bill since Republicans and their conservative talk-radio allies began railing against what they labeled as pork barrel spending within it.
The sheer size of it – hovering at about $900 billion — has prompted more protests that are now causing some moderate and conservative Democrats to flinch and, worse, hesitate.
The anxiety over lost momentum seemed almost palpable this week as the president in television interviews voiced frustration with his White House’s progress and the way his recovery program was being demonized as a Democratic spending frenzy.
In Obama’s own words in an NBC interview, it’s his job to “get this thing back on track.”
Already, he’s trying – rolling out Michelle Obama to talk stimulus Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday (at a train station, no less) and sitting down with key senators one-on-one.
But this is unfamiliar turf for a team that achieved near epic status for its communication skills during the presidential campaign. They’ve rarely ever had to play catch-up.
With the president’s gifted oratory and a technologically savvy team, the Obama camp was able to seize control of the national conversation as early as April and never fully relinquish it right through his Inaugural Address two weeks ago.
To be sure, some of Obama’s headaches stem from the normal dysfunction that occurs when a White House is in transition. Phones don’t work, chains of command are fuzzy, and there are formalities that need tending to.
But the Obama team also made its own mistakes. The president’s troubled cabinet nominees added to the cacophony that at times drowned out the White House economic messages in the past two weeks.
And it seems more apparent each day that the nascent Obama Administration isn’t fully prepared for the task at hand.
The president’s decision to push through a massive stimulus bill, while perhaps unavoidable, is forcing the much-vaunted Chicago crowd to adapt at lightning speed to its more skillful adversaries on Capitol Hill, while at the same time taking a crash course on harnessing the full power of bully pulpit. If he doesn’t figure it out soon, Obama is likely to find out that his stimulus package looks very different than he had in mind indeed.
The Jetsons versus the Flinstones
Obama’s campaign was lauded for its visionary use of modern tools for old-fashioned politics. Through the Internet, it recruited supporters, collected dollars, rallied supporters and organized get-out-the vote operations.
But when these modern heroes arrived at the White House, it was like the lights all went out.
Their contact with their millions-fold supporters was cut off, literally, as e-mail systems broke down and ‘The List’ of political supporters was blocked at the iron gate.
To meet government ethics rules, the campaign operation and its grassroots army were forced to de-camp to the Democratic National Committee, robbing the president of one of his most potent political weapons just as the stimulus bill was under consideration in the House.
But while the White House team struggled to adapt, it was business as usual on Capitol Hill for Republicans.
They could practically sleep-walk through their attack plan once House Democrats began to fill in Obama’s broad outlines for a stimulus with a few pet projects of their own.
It required two simple steps: Scream pork, call Rush Limbaugh.
They even could have even used a rotary phone.