February 4, 2009

MAGICAL THINKING:

The new Great Communicator ... isn't: Obama is stumbling in the stimulus debate -- and public support is dropping -- because for 30 years Republicans have lied about the role of government. Now he's got to tell the truth. (Joan Walsh, 2/04/09, Salon)

[I]'m writing because I'm concerned about how Obama is and isn't selling his crucial stimulus/recovery bill. I'm wondering about what he'd say about it in an FDR-style "fireside chat." On YouTube, or wherever. Even though I'm an Obama admirer, and also, I'm paid to know these things, I'm not sure I do know how he'd make the case for why this bill will solve our economy's problems, and why it must pass. And soon, because new poll numbers now show that public support for it is already dropping fast. A Rasmussen poll says 43 percent oppose it, and 37 support it, an 8-point slide in two weeks. Nate Silver thinks that poll overstates the bill's troubles. "There is some evidence -- the trendline in the Rasmussen poll -- that he stimulus has become less popular. There is no evidence, on the other hand, that the stimulus has become unpopular; on the contrary, the preponderance of polling evidence suggests it remains a course of action that most of the public likes." Still, the Washington Post reported today that Senate Democrats don't think they have the votes to pass it right now.

Obama is the Democrats' Great Communicator, our Ronald Reagan. It's fitting that his highest priority will be reversing the tax and spending priorities Reagan enshrined as a new American compact almost 30 years ago, and reviving the notion of government as an engine of capitalist growth -- not merely the safety net provider, but the catalyst for organizing our public resources around what makes the economy strong. We've been arguing at the margins during these last two years of pain: Government should regulate more, or less. Tax rates should be higher, or lower. But there's a dangerous civic illiteracy in our country about what the larger role of government in a modern economy is, or should be, and I don't think Obama will ultimately prevail if he doesn't start to take it on.

Obama is the most remarkable Democratic communicator of my lifetime, I think, and even he's not rising to the task, yet.


Actually, Mr. Obama is a historically awful communicator who has advanced up the ladder by calculatedly not saying anything. After every set-piece speech he's given -- when he's forced to say something, however elliptical -- the media and the staff have had to spend at least a week cleaning up after the mess. This notion that he communicates brilliantly is a function of the emotional connection of his fans to his persona, not of his words. So there's precious little chance that he can change anyone's mind about major questions of the day by giving speeches. He's not Ronald Reagan; he's George H. W. Bush, at his best in a press conference where he can demonstrate mastery of a wide range of factual matters without being expected to move his audience. This is a prose, not a poetry, politician.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 4, 2009 6:21 PM
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