Monday, November 15, 2010

President Obama goes tone deaf

I've given President Obama a ton more slack than I would have any other politician. Possessing an overdeveloped sense of empathy, I felt the burden of multiple crises he inherited the minute he took the oath. I didn't demand instant solutions. I accepted and defended trade-offs for the slightest of policy gains as a pragmatic matter. But it's clear to me that he needs to get out of his bubble somehow, because he's obviously listening to the wrong people. This is the second time I've seen it reported Obama is lamenting his failure to change the "tone" in Washington, along with mumblings about better bi-partisanship.

Someone needs to get through to him. "The people" don't give a flying leap about tone. Neither do they care how it's done, they just want tangible results that improve their lives. It's not about playing nice, it's not about deficits or so-called socialist government take-overs. Those are phony narratives he allowed to foment and grow out of control until they became conventional wisdom via an ever complacent media whose existence depends on placating conservative Republicans.

What the people want is economic security. They want a booming job market. They want money in their bank accounts and their pockets. Everything else is just ginned up controversy.

Obama's biggest problem is he ran as a leader. He talked like a leader. He promised to lead and the majority of the country believed him. But he's governed like an appeaser. He gave too much ground before the battles even started. I don't think one man can fix everything, nor can everything broken in this country be repaired at once or immediately. But Obama's problem is bad optics.

He gave ground without a symbolic, rhetorical fight. He didn't draw the bright line between his goals and the GOP obstruction. His persona is viewed by slogan voters as the nerdy kid who hides on the playground for fear of the class bully that is today's GOP. The demo he's after will side with the bully every time, because they're impressed, and comforted, by strength -- not finesse. That's why they supported Bush for so long. They don't care if it's wrong or right, true or false. They just want to be believe in a strong leader and his vision.

I don't think a lot of legislation failed because Obama didn't "use his bully pulpit." But I do think he failed to use it to define himself and articulate his vision in simple enough terms for the average slogan voter to grasp. And neither did he articulate it in strong enough terms, or clear enough metrics, for the informed voters to believe in it.

It's not the tone in Washington that Obama needs to worry about. It's his own.

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11 Comments:

Blogger ruddyturnstone said...

Except that he didn't campaign and talk as a leader. He said he would be bi partisan. He said he would "change the tone." He said he would "transcend the partisan bickering." That he would seek consensus on everything in "transparent," C Span televized, round table discussions(just like he did as a "community organizer," doncha know). He is what he said he would be. If you supported him, you have nothing to complain about. We could have had a fighter. We could have a President who had been through the GOP slime machine for 20 years, and had come out standing. Who knew what the deal was. Who would have openly taken on the right wing, and would have fought tooth and nail for liberal policies. But nooooooooooooooo, we had to have a messiah, a guru, a "healer," who practiced "a new kind of politics." Well, that's what we got now. And if you backed him over Hillary (and I honestly don't know if you did or not), then you have no grounds for disappointment.

9:53:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Ruddy, think you're wrong about that. Obama most certainly ran as a leader, what he didn't run as was a liberal or a progressive. As for the spate of Hillary nostalgia/sour grapes I'm seeing around the nets lately, good Lord get over it.

There's no evidence she would have done anything much differently than Obama and she would have been battling the same smear machine, only in overdrive since the GOP already had so much oppo on her. Would have been facing the same obstructionism in Congress. And she clearly is just as corporatist as the next professional pol. Hell she's even more connected to the bankster crowd. Did you forget Chelsea is a hedge funder?

And as for fighting the GOPers tooth and nail, I seem to recall one of her worst campaign moments was when she praised McCain...

9:48:00 AM  
Blogger J.W. Williamson said...

Thank, Libby, for this post. I wrote my own sheet-ripping assessment of the Obama presidency over the weekend but didn't publish it. Can't quite bring myself to come out publicly against his weakness. Which is what it is, in my opinion. He's just a weak president, and no weak president ever gets a second term. Or hardly ever.

He's a huge and sad disappointment to me.

11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

"and no weak president ever gets a second term. Or hardly ever."

Glad you said "hardly ever!" But of course the weak are often seen as strong since they start wars so often so that they can appear strong and parade around in flight suits with a sock in their jockey shorts.

I'm not sure I'm comfortable with an overly strong executive in the long run either. I'll usually settle for smart and decent especially when the other choice was someone who not only assured us that the economy was strong and debt didn't matter as much as nation building in a country we destroyed for no reason.

Have we forgotten just how bad things were?

1:22:00 PM  
Blogger ruddyturnstone said...

How can you say he ran "as a leader," when at the same time he ran on a platform of bi or even post partisanship? When he stressed ending the culture of "partisan bickering." When he promised to "listen to all sides" and professed his admiration of Reagan? Obama claimed to represent "a new kind of politics," one in which the "divisiveness" in Washington (for which he blaimed the Clintons, not the GOP) would be eliminated. In short, he promised to do his best to make nice-nice with the Republicans, and that's just what he has done for the last two years.

As for Hillary, no, I won't just get over it. She knew the slime machine inside and out. And, yeah, they would have been coming for her. But so what? As Obama is learning, they come after any President with a "D" after his name. Hillary learned this in 1993, and already knew how to deal with it. As for her being just as corporatist as Obama, I beg to differ. Hillary recieved the votes of the working class in the primaries (other than African Americans). She ran significantly to the left of Obama on economic issues, such as NAFTA and health care reform. She would NOT be looking to carve up Social Security. She may have bailed out the banks, but you can bet your boots there would have been some hell to pay, as in bankers going to jail instead of collecting bonuses. And she would not have forgotten to include the middle and lower classes in the bailouts, as Obama did. She praised McCain, because he was not part of the regular GOP smear machine, having been smeared himself by it by the Bush forces in 2000. It's one thing to praise an individual Republican Senator, one who had a reputation as something of a party maverick, it's quite another to "compromise" your principles in a dogfight with the GOP as a whole before the battle has even begun, as Obama did and does.

Hillary is a fighter. Obama is a candy ass, at least when it comes to the GOP. That's the difference.

8:34:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

I don't think Obama is weak, just that he's been too subtle about policy and too vague about defining his agenda. To be fair, anyone who was paying attention would have expected this, or should have, given his history in the statehouse. His style leans toward mediation, rather than confrontation.

And I agree with Fogg, that much of what the left demands of him in terms of being a strong executive is exactly what would horrify us if a GOP president was doing it.

Coffee hasn't kicked in yet, but where I think he got lost is in failing to define the agenda clearly enough. I actually think he's a strong president who's been the victim of bad advisors. He picked a team who wants to preserve the CW and the Village norms at a time when we badly need to redefine the differences between the parties and drastically change the political paradigm.

And Ruddy, your selective memory is kicking in. Hillary ran a crap campaign and most certainly did not run significantly to the left of Obama. That's why she lost.

9:58:00 AM  
Blogger ruddyturnstone said...

I gave two examples of where Hillary ran to the left of Obama, you have done nothing to refute that. Her health care plan was closer to UHC than his was, and she was in favor of revising NAFTA, he wasn't. All in all, Hillary ran on bread and butter, New Deal, Great Society liberalism. Obama ran on some sort of half-assed, "post partisan," goo goo, feel good, process oriented non sense. Hillary appealed to the middle, working and lower classes, Obama to the self styled "creative class." Her campaign became "crap" because she was not prepared to deal with the misogyny, the race baiting and phony, astroturfed, media fed faux grassroots hysteria that was ginned up by and for Obama. Check your own memory, once your caffeine fix kicks in.

On the rest of it...it's just excuse making. Obama is weak, when it comes to dealing with the GOP. He wets his pants and sells out before the real negotiations even begin. And, please, don't give me the "bad advisors" crap. That is the last refuge of excuse makers..."oh, if only the Czar knew..." He picked them. If they stink (and they do), that means he stinks too.

As for what I "demand" of him, no, I would not have complained if Bush did it. What I demand is that he follow the Constitution and the law when it comes to civil liberties. He can do that by executive order, and general executive decision making, just as Bush could have. But, like Bush, he uses his orders and decisions to pursue instead a policy of authoritarianism.

Folks like you who continue to defend him, who pretend to see something "subtle" in his sellout of the middle and lower classes, who confuse capitulation with "mediation" and who pretend to see a "strong" president in this POS make me sick.

5:20:00 PM  
Anonymous joel hanes said...

> "The people" don't give a flying leap about tone.


Libby, I think you have far too rosy a view of the American electorate.

If Obama started kicking butt and taking names, if he acted like a forceful leader, I suspect that a substantial fraction of voters would start hearing the word "uppity" in their heads whenever they thought about the Presidency (even though they would seldom say it out loud).

Half the country has come a very long way in the last fifty years.

The other half resents women in positions of leadership, detests successful and intellectual people of color, is already close to open revolt because the President of the US is a black man, and attempts to camoflage its bigotry with its continual talk of "Real America" and "heartland values".

Mr. Obama is following in the behavioral footsteps of Jackie Robinson; apparently he thinks that's required. I am sorry to say that I believe he's correct.

The second black president, whoever he is, will have somewhat more freedom to kick butt and take names.

9:01:00 PM  
Anonymous joel hanes said...

Only fifty years ago. [First Draft]

Many of the people in that photo are still voting. They haven't changed; people mostly don't.
One might imagine what they think of Obama.

But those people were better than their own parents, who accepted sunset towns and lynchings and Jim Crow.

And so on. It's not quite been a century and a half since some Americans owned other Americans as chattel.

1:51:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Sick and disgusted is no way to got through life Ruddy. There's ten million blogs out there. Suggest you go troll one of those where the proprietor doesn't make you ill. Meanwhile, we will preserve this comment for future historians who will study how civil society drowned in a sea of corporate sponsored gibberish.

7:21:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Point taken Joel, but I don't have any illusions about liberals holding a majority, even though polling suggests that people who won't own the label actually support liberal policies when asked about them specfically. But the uppity meme is already firmly planted in the public consciousness and there's probably 40% out there who will hold that view no matter what he does.

Neither am I suggesting that Obama be more confrontational. Rather that he be more clear and state his case in simpler terms and shorter soundbites that the slogan voters can digest. Thinking his job is to be the spine of the party, since our Congresscreatures can't seem to grow one that lasts beyond a vote or two. Democratic Party needs to start standing for something definable again, to draw a bright line so those slogan voters see the choice clearly. The middle demo he needs responds to strength of will and simple arguments, not to lofty long term goals couched in vague terms and delivered in concillatory tones. And he loses the loyal left when he waffles on his positions. So it's lose/lost.

7:32:00 AM  

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