Not Just the Messaging

A Gallup poll suggests that President Obama’s problems are not simply the result of poor messaging and not ‘acting tough’ with Congress. “A new low of 26% of Americans approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy, down 11 percentage points since Gallup last measured it in mid-May and well below his previous low of 35% in November 2010.”


A multi-year chart shows a consistent decline. This isn’t the track of a fundamentally successful President having an occasional bad day (or as he puts it a “run of bad luck”). It is the picture of cumulative system failure; where today is worse than yesterday and tomorrow worse than today.

Heading for Crush Depth

The Bin Laden bounce is gone. Gallup continues. “Americans’ approval of Obama on Afghanistan is down 15 points since mid-May, the most of any issue Gallup tracked during this period, though the resulting 38% approval rating is not the lowest he’s seen on this issue.” Gallup continues. “Democrats Alone Back Obama’s Performance on the Issues … President Obama’s approval rating has dwindled in recent weeks to the point that it is barely hugging the 40% line.”

While the President’s political handlers will doubtless try to blame “messaging” or “communication problems” or “terrorism” by the Tea Party these should be lies uttered for public consumption only. Unless they want to drink their own Kool Aid they must internally recognize that the President’s problems go beyond bad speechwriting, falling Presidential seals or misaligned teleprompters. No fixing of camera angles, application of makeup, focus group studies, advertising campaigns, celebrity endorsements or lighting can right this list. The instruments aren’t lying. The ship is really going down.


The solution must therefore be to govern and not to campaign. Unfortunately campaigning is all the President knows how to do. And the press knew it, even in 2008. But they blew off their own forebodings by reasoning that competent campaigning implied management expertise and therefore, executive excellence. Now it is apparent that the President cannot talk his way out of the problem. What must he do?

The usual solution to this dilemma is for the President to hire talent. FDR, who President Obama’s advisers often liken him to, knew better in most cases than to try and run World War 2 by himself. He let people like George Marshall do that. Donald Trump has recently attacked President Obama for “taking more vacations than any human being I’ve ever seen”. But maybe this is precisely what he needs to do.

Yet talent will get you nowhere unless it is guided by a rational strategy. George Marshall succeeded largely because he spent his time fighting Hitler, not tilting at windmills. It won’t do to declare, as Yogi Berra once said, that “we’re lost but we’re making good time.” You can’t be indifferent to heading if you hope to get somewhere. No amount of executive expertise can turn around an economy by emphasizing carbon trading, declaring CO2 a menace to mankind, pandering to unions and getting chummy with crony capitalists. “The mother of all Keynesian contractions is coming in 2013 — when all these tax cuts expire, when all this stimulus is gone.” That’s the wrong way to recovery and the problem is that the President thinks it’s the way to the future.


Yet if President Obama were to orient himself and realize that regulation stifled business and gave clear orders to competent managers to clear them away, instead of messing with a gaggle of impotent “czars”, then he might well go on vacation — and deserve it. Set the right course, hire someone who knows up from down and eat that ice-cream cone.

Unfortunately the hour is late for that. The Black Caucus has finally said it is tired of his talk. More than any other group it has experienced the greatest disappointment. Instead of singing “Happy Days are Here Again”, the 50% unemployment rate among Black Youth means the more likely song is “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Assuming dimes still bought anything. Maxine Waters said it was to time to unleash her on the President.

During a sometimes-raucous session of what’s being called the “For the People” Jobs Initiative tour, a key member of the Congressional Black Caucus told an audience in Detroit Tuesday that the CBC doesn’t put pressure on President Obama because he is loved by black voters. But at the same time, Rep. Maxine Waters said, members of the CBC are becoming increasingly tired and frustrated by Obama’s performance on the issue of jobs. Even as she expressed support for the president, Waters virtually invited the crowd to “unleash us” to pressure Obama for action.

“We don’t put pressure on the president,” Waters told the audience at Wayne County Community College. “Let me tell you why. We don’t put pressure on the president because ya’ll love the president. You love the president. You’re very proud to have a black man — first time in the history of the United States of America. If we go after the president too hard, you’re going after us.”


It’s a generous offer, but unleashing her would be a violation of the Geneva Convention and no one, not even the President’s worst political enemies, could be so cruel as to wish that. More to the point it would be the wrong idea. She has neither the talent nor the right ideas the President needs to turn things around. What Waters can claim to be is part of the problem. Maybe she should take a vacation too.

Messaging problems. Tower to Leslie Nielsen.

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