February 7, 2009


Obama Risks Overusing the Bully Pulpit on Stimulus Package (Robert Schlesinger, 2/06/09, US News: Thomas Jefferson Street blog)

[H]is whole stimulus-pitching performance not only underscores his belief in the power of words but raises questions about whether he understands their limitations.

Even our most eloquent presidents understood (or in the case of Bill Clinton, learned) the power of presidential speech dissipates the more it is used. "People forget this when they expect me to go on the air all the time educating the nation," JFK once told aide Arthur Schlesinger (my father). "The nation will listen only if it is a moment of great urgency."

The nation does face a moment of great urgency, but we're two-and-a-half-weeks into Obama's term. The president can only talk directly to the American people so often. This may well be the moment for the president to use the bully pulpit; but doing so risks diminishes his power for the remaining three years and 50 weeks in office.

President's Stimulus Plan Tests Power of Persuasion (Michael D. Shear, 2/06/09, Washington Post)
But Obama's personal lobbying and public relations efforts have not always succeeded. He spent hours behind closed doors with Republican House members, only to see them vote as a bloc against his stimulus plan. Public opinion polls suggest Americans remain largely unengaged by the stimulus plan and divided over whether it deserves passage.

In Congress, many lawmakers say calls from their constituents are running wildly against spending so much money to stimulate the economy, despite the president's full-throated endorsements.

It is an early reminder that there are limits to presidential power, even for a charismatic new chief executive who is immensely popular with the American people. "Obama wants a different politics, but the system of a bill becoming a law hasn't changed," said Paul Light, a professor of public policy at New York University. The House vote "suggests he may not yet understand the institutional checks and balances that limit a president's salesmanship."

Just days into his presidency, Obama and his aides have fielded questions about his ineffectiveness as senators began trimming pieces from the legislation that House Democrats had assembled with Obama's blessing.

During his television interviews this week, Obama was asked whether his administration had lost control of the narrative as the legislative battles escalated.

"I don't think we've lost the message," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night. "That's why I'm here with you."

Most presidents guard their personal time -- and capital -- carefully, spending it only when dispatching an aide or emissary won't get the job done.

But aides said Obama has largely rejected that approach when it comes to economic recovery, preferring instead to run his administration much as he campaigned for the presidency

One of George W. Bush's great advantages at the time of 9-11 was that he hadn't continually been in our faces, so when he did make speeches they carried added importance. Recall the impact of his embryonic stem cell speech.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 7, 2009 8:59 AM
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