In 2007, Barack Obama’s campaign spent a lot of time and money building its carefully crafted and finely tuned ad and messaging campaign that landed their man in the White House. But — and here’s where the problem begins — the underlying product he’s selling today is vaporware that also metastasized from his marketing men as well:
The most important red line of Barack Obama’s presidency was scrawled hastily in January 2007, a few weeks before he even announced he was running for president.
Soon-to-be-candidate Obama, then an Illinois senator, was thinking about turning down an invitation to speak at a big health care conference sponsored by the progressive group Families USA, when two aides, Robert Gibbs and Jon Favreau, hit on an idea that would make him appear more prepared and committed than he actually was at the moment.
Why not just announce his intention to pass universal health care by the end of his first term?
Thus was born Obamacare, a check-the-box, news-cycle expedient that would ultimately define a president.
“We needed something to say,” recalled one of the advisers involved in the discussion. “I can’t tell you how little thought was given to that thought other than it sounded good. So they just kind of hatched it on their own. It just happened. It wasn’t like a deep strategic conversation.”’
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Obama’s legacy on health care began with the pressure to say something, anything, at the progressive health conference a year before the first presidential primary votes were cast. He needed to keep up with Clinton, his party’s front-runner, and Edwards, who was trying to carve out space to Clinton’s left as the party’s liberal standard-bearer.
Favreau, who would go on to become the chief White House speechwriter, said Obama wanted “to say something bold and ambitious about health care.”
“He had previously talked about how every year and every election we keep talking about health care and nothing ever happens,” Favreau said. “So we came up with that promise, really one of the first.”
The candidate jumped at it. He probably wasn’t going to get elected anyway, the team concluded. Why not go big?
That last line is a reminder of something that the late Cavett Robert, founder of the National Speakers Association (a guild that Mr. Obama can certainly appreciate), once cautioned would-be public speakers: “Don’t be in too much of a hurry to promote, until you get good. Otherwise you just speed up the rate at which the world finds out you’re no good.”
And the crappy underlying Obamacare product is a danger that ad man (and Mad Men series advisor) Jerry Della Femina warned his followers to avoid over 40 years ago, via his classic book on advertising, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor: Front-Line Dispatches from the Advertising War:
There is a great deal of advertising that’s better than the product. When that happens, all that the good advertising will do is put you out of business faster. There have been cases where the product had to come up to the advertising but when the product fails to do that, the advertiser will eventually run into a lot of trouble.
Which brings us to Footie Pajamas Boy, his boss in the White House, and the networks who prop him up, all of which are flailing today.
Update: At Commentary, Peter Wehner reaches a similar conclusion using a different analogy, to explain why we’re all “Rolling Our Eyes at Obama” these days:
Think back to the guy in high school–let’s call him Barry–who, when he first meets people, sells himself as something special. He’s gifted with words and makes fairly exorbitant claims about what we can expect of him. And many of his classmates believe him. But over time they observe that he falls consistently short in every arena. He’s academically mediocre, not outstanding; he finishes in the bottom half of the track meets we’re told he’ll excel in; and while he’s in the school play, it’s as a secondary figure.
Here’s the thing, though: He never stops talking. He’s filled with excuses. He’s constantly reweaving events to make himself look good. He keeps making promises, lovely and extravagant promises, but they’re devalued and emptied of meaning. Barry is just being Barry. Don’t take him seriously. He’s just a talker.
It strikes me that more and more Americans are now viewing the president in a similar fashion. They’ve seen the Obama act for five long years, and it’s become tiresome. We’re on to the verbal tricks, the stale formulations, the endless straw men and unmatched sense of moral superiority. We’ve figured out that the reality has never come close to meeting the expectations and promises. And so words that had a magical effect before now elicit a roll of the eyes. Barry is just being Barry. Don’t take him seriously. He’s just a talker.
Oh and by the way, Obamacare and its related Website are so simple and easy to use, “While Obama vacationed, his staff signed him up for ObamaCare by visiting the D.C. exchange in person,” the Politico claims; “A perfect ending to an embarrassing three months,” Allahpundit adds.
And 2014 is just around the corner…