Patterico's Pontifications


Obama’s problem is not communicating; it is governing

Filed under: General — Karl @ 11:12 am

The Politico suggests that what we have here is a failure to communicate:

Of all the pitfalls Barack Obama might face in the presidency, here is one not many people predicted: He is struggling as a public communicator.


What’s different now? The polished phrases and unflappable delivery haven’t gone away. His prime-time news conference and speech to Congress drew the usual praise.

But the discipline and strategic focus of the campaign have yet to move into the White House.

Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen then break down his supposed problems: mixed messages; mixed messengers; being too cool for his own good; not telling enough “hard truths about the complexity of the economic problems and the complexity of the solutions”; and criticism from fellow Democrats.  Obamacon Peggy Noonan echoes a number of these concerns in fretting over the “unbearable lightness” of Obama’s presidency to date.

Setting aside whether Pres. Obama’s reputation as a great communicator ever lived up to the hype of the establishment media, these analyses miss the point.  Obama’s communication as president is not the problem, but a symptom of Obama’s larger, deeper problems.

Pres. Obama delivers mixed messages on the economy because the plan to save America’s banks — which he should have been developing since his election — has now been delayed until April.  This abject failure creates an image of incompetence, sparking fear and uncertainty in the financial markets and on Capitol Hill.  It also leaves Obama with out strategic organizing principles for the Administration’s rhetoric.  Obama and his spokespeople thus veer from doomsaying to happytalk based on purely tactical considerations (e.g., passing a stimulus bill) or the reaction to same (e.g.,  reassuring the markets which gyrate on the Administration’s comments, rumors of unannounced plans, etc.).

In such an atmosphere, things like Treasury Secretary Timmy Geithner’s botch job of issues like the AIG bonuses get magnified, and serve as a reminder of the larger problems, including Geithner’s failure to staff up the Treasury weeks into the Administration, and the general lack of oversight of hundreds of billions in TARP funds required by law.

Obama’s friction with Congressional Democrats was an entirely predictable result of his “too much, too soon” agenda, for which there are also no concrete proposals.  Even Ms. Noonan gets this one:

Mr. Obama likes to say presidents can do more than one thing at a time, but in fact modern presidents are lucky to do one thing at a time, never mind two.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates due today will likely make Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) even more skeptical of the Obama budget and more opposed to the trial balloon of ramming socialized healthcare through the Senate as part of the budget reconciliation process.  The US is gambling on creating over a trillion dollars out of thin air to dig the nation out of a recession, with no guarantee that it will work any better than it did for Japan in the 1990s.  Outside the White House, people like Sen. Conrad (and the Gang of 15 led by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN)) might not think this is the ideal time to saddle the country with trillions in additional spending on already unsustainable entitlement programs.

Governing is choosing among priorities.  Pres. Obama, having reached the top by voting left and “present,” does not want to make any choices.  In this situation, it does not matter whether Pres. Obama is a talented speechmaker.  Having a generic plan to do everything at once, but no specific plan to address anything, not even on the most pressing issues of the day, is not likely to convince the financial markets or Congress that Obama knows what he is doing.


Update: Sen. Conrad expects federal deficit spending will be about $1.6 trillion greater over the next ten years than Pres. Obama’s budget plan forecasts.  Conrad said he did not plan to include any instructions in the budget plan he is crafting for healthcare or greenhouse gas initiatives.

Update x2: Robert Reich writes: “The president cannot afford to lose the public’s confidence that his administration is a careful steward of the public’s money. The public was willing to go along with a large stimulus package. But it won’t go along with a second stimulus, and certainly not another TARP. And until the public feels confident that its money isn’t being thrown down a rat hole, it may balk at other ambitious undertakings such as healthcare or education or the environment.” (via Allahpundit.)


32 Responses to “Obama’s problem is not communicating; it is governing”

  1. We have had incompetent presidents before. Harding comes to mind although he was followed by the efficient but minimalist Coolidge. What is happening now is the collapse of the political class in America. Mark Twain famously said, “There is no hereditary criminal class in America with the possible exception of Congress.” That was in the days when there was no major external threat and taxes were chiefly of the passive sort like tariffs. Now, we have a modern, high tax and spend economy upon which millions depend for healthcare and retirement. Even the value of our money is at stake. In Samuel Clemens’ time, money was still an issue but there was no Federal Reserve Bank that could flood the world with greenbacks.

    There are serious concerns about the ability of the political class to cope with the crisis.

    Past success, however, is no guarantee of future recovery, especially now when there are daily disasters and new indicators of political breakdown. All developments are not disasters in themselves. The AIG bonus firestorm is a diversion from real issues , but it puts the ghastly political classes who make U.S. law on display for what they are: ageing self-serving demagogues who have spent decades warping the U.S. political system for their own ends. We see the system up close, law-making that is riddled with slapdash, incompetence and gamesmanship.

    One test of whether we are witnessing the end of America is how many more times Americans put up with congressional show trials of individual business people and their employees, slandering and vilifying them for their actions and motives. And for how long will they tolerate a President who berates business and corporations as dens of crime and malfeasance? If the majority of Americans come to accept the caricatures of business as true, then America is closer to the end of its life as a global leader, as a champion of markets and individualism.

    While these writers worry about the vilifying of business, the trusty LA Times springs to our rescue with an example.

    The belief that the wealthy are worthy is waning
    With financial crisis and scandal as backdrop, Americans are questioning whether plutocrats are either indispensable or deserving.
    Michael Hiltzik March 19, 2009
    The notion that the poor always will be with us has been ingrained in our culture ever since the sermons of Moses were set down by the anonymous author of Deuteronomy.

    The financial crisis of the present day raises a rather different issue, however: What should we do about the rich?

    That the point is even open for discussion suggests that a sea change is taking place on the American political scene. For decades, the wealthy have been held up as people to be admired, victors in the Darwinian economic struggle by virtue of their personal ingenuity and hard work.

    Americans consistently supported fiscal policies that undermined middle- and working-class interests partially because they saw themselves as rich-people-in-waiting: Given time, toil and the magic of compound interest, anyone could retire a millionaire.

    Hiltzik knows to be a fallacy because he is still poor.

    (The price of admission to the top 1% income-earning club last year was roughly $400,000.) That may account for the near-total absence of public outcry over President Obama’s proposal to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans — except of course from the wealthiest Americans.

    One factor fueling the public fury over the AIG bonuses, so inescapably in the news this week, is the recognition that so many huge fortunes landed in the hands of the undeserving rich. Some of them added little value to the economy but merely moved money around in novel, excessively clever and ultimately destructive ways; others are corporate executives who were ridiculously overpaid whether they succeeded or failed at their jobs.

    So, the solution is to tax out of existence those who make over $400K? Even Tim might make that much if he succeeds in graduating from law school.

    No doubt he will rely that he is happy to contribute his share, secure in the knowledge that the day is far off, if ever.

    Anyway, we have a war on business at the same time we have a collapse of the political class.

    Sorry to go on so long.

    Mike K (8df289)

  2. Hey Hax…

    Remember that “stock rally” you bragged about?

    Hope you sold.

    Scott Jacobs (90ff96)

  3. Obama’s War on Prosperity is a smash hit, wait till Hollywood and the MSM get their end of the probe.

    First the Energy millionaires, then the Banking millionaires, then the Auto millionaires, then …..

    Jimminy'cricket (637168)

  4. “Having a generic plan to do everything at once, but no specific plan to address anything . . . “

    A perfect summation of the Obama Administration to date.

    Stu707 (7fb2e7)

  5. Focusing on ‘communication’ is putting the cart before the horse. While communication is important, the substance of what one is trying to do is far more important than the way one tries to get his message across. And for the most part, very few people are going to be so good at ‘communicating’ that they can get others to buy something they think isn’t going to do them any good.

    And that’s the rub for Obama. During the campaign, people wanted what he was selling: an end to Bush and a chance to punish those seen as being responsible for our financial mess, a change in tone, etc., etc., etc.

    The public isn’t so sold, however, on what he is trying to do as President, as evidenced by his personal ratings being higher than approval for his specific policies. The public is inherently afraid/resistant to big government, they didn’t sign on for trillion dollar deficits for years to come and no amount of glib talk is going to change minds.

    And it’s no surprise that Washington liberals are going to focus on ‘communication’. To them, there’s no chance that the public wouldn’t like the substance of what they’re trying to do (after all, liberals are on the side on angels), so any problems, by definition, have to be on the way Obama is going about his job, and not the what Obama is trying to do.

    steve sturm (369bc6)

  6. Oh, Great!
    The annual Federal Budget Deficit is going to be ONLY $160B greater than was previously planned!
    Wasn’t our Fearless Bowler saying he was going to get the deficit DOWN to only $450B in the near future?
    Now, we’re looking at a minimum of $600B per annum of deficit spending…
    I’m sure that inflation will only be around 12-15% – whether that will be monthly or yearly is to be determined.

    AD - RtR/OS (5fb16f)

  7. Karl – As part of the too much, too soon discussion, it should be pointed out to the Obama supporters and AIG critics here that every single Democrat in the House of Representatives and every single Democrat in the Senate ( plus the two lobster hoochies from Maine and Arlen Spector) who voted to approve the Stimulus Bill, plus Barack Obama, who signed it into law, approved the payment of those AIG bonuses.

    The current outrage is not only dishonest, a distraction, but a direct result of a rush to pass and sign into law legislation which absolutely nobody has had a chance to read or understand – due to IMPENDING DOOM!!!!! Who warned about the consequences of that? I can’t remember.

    Didn’t Obama make a promise not to sign any legislation without posting it on the White House website for five days first? Scratch yet another Obama promise!

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  8. If a rampant socialist like Reich is warning that your budget deficits are already too enormous to tack anything on at this point, you know you’re in deep doo – doo. I can only imagine what Volcker thinks about all of this – but strangely, the MSM is suddenly not interested in his opinion anymore.

    Dmac (49b16c)

  9. more deficits…
    //from PowerLine
    Long-run deficit projections are meaningless, but for what it’s worth, the CBO sees trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see under Obama’s budget, with $1.2 trillion in red ink being run up in 2019.”

    Wow! GWB was castigated (and is, still) for “doubling” the National Debt on his watch
    (actually, it went up by $4.899B from $5.728B from 20 Jan 01 to 20 Jan 09);
    BHO will exceed that 8-year figure in probably the first two years of his administration,
    and keep adding another $Million-Million (One-Trillion) every year after that.
    Please, could we replace this administration with a group of “drunken sailors”?
    It certainly would cost less, and be more entertaining.

    AD - RtR/OS (5fb16f)

  10. The next Obama priority is Cap and Trade, which got no help from the BBC last week as they demolished the latest pseudo science meeting on AGW.

    there are two aspects of the statement which are noteworthy and on which I would like to reflect: whose views does it represent, and what are the “actions” being called for?

    Copenhagen consensus?

    The Copenhagen conference was no Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) event.

    It was not a process initiated and conducted by the world’s governments; there was no systematic synthesis, assessment and review of research findings as in the IPCC, and there was certainly no collective mechanism enabling the 2,000-plus researchers to consider drafts of the six key messages or to offer their own suggestions for what politicians may need to hear.

    The conference was in fact convened by no established academic or professional body.

    Unlike the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) or the UK’s Royal Society – which also hold large conferences and from time to time issue carefully worded statements representing the views of professional bodies – this conference was organised by the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU).

    This little-heard-of coalition, launched in January 2006, consists of 10 of the world’s self-proclaimed elite universities, including of course the University of Copenhagen.

    So, how did they decide on the priorities for action on AGW ?

    During the conference there were debates amongst the experts about whether a carbon tax or carbon trading is the way to go. There were debates about whether or not we should abandon the “two degrees” target as unachievable, and whether there’s a need to start researching and promoting a portfolio of geo-engineering strategies.

    There were debates about the epistemological limits to model-based predictions of the future, and many other subjects besides – even the role of religion in curbing climate change.

    These are all valid debates to have, and many of them mixed science, values, ethics and politics.
    Has the conference addressed the hard political choices?

    It therefore seems problematic to me when such lively, well-informed and yet largely unresolved debates get reduced to six key messages, messages that on the one hand carry the aura of urgency, precision and scientific authority – “there is no excuse for inaction” – and yet at the same time remain so imprecise as to dictate or resolve nothing in political terms.

    In fact, the “consensus” statement of the meeting was written before the meeting was held.

    MIke K (8df289)

  11. Mike, I think the pendulum on Global Warming has now slid past the halfway mark in the other direction – watch it do a full – on tilt if these guys try to impose a cap and trade scheme on the economy. You think the opposition to TARPII is bad now, it will be armageddon in the streets if they attempt this boondoogle. The only saving grace in all of this enormous spending is the public disgust with any additional monies being larded on to the deficit.

    Dmac (49b16c)

  12. The Elites will pass down from their Ivory Towers the prescribed prescriptions for all that ails the great unwashed who are destroying this pristine environement.
    Or, in simpler terms that even AlGore recognizes (and endorses):
    Do as we say, not as we do!

    AD - RtR/OS (5fb16f)

  13. Mike, Dmac,

    Check the second update. Conrad is not pushing cap-and-trade.

    Karl (f07e38)

  14. Oh, I agree Karl, but this has a lot of wind behind it. I think Obama wanted to be president to do Cap and Trade and health care and a few other left wing transformations, the stuff that people are afraid of. The financial collapse is an inconvenient distraction and he isn’t that interested in it.

    It still boggles my mind that he wants electric cars but there is no energy source in his plans except wind and sun. I think, with 100 nuclear plants and a big upgrade in the grid, we could all be driving electrics in 10 years. But you can’t plug an electric car into your a**hole. There has to some electrons somewhere.

    The guy just isn’t that interested in the nuts and bolts stuff. People said Reagan was a “big picture” guy. Obama is a dream focused guy and gets annoyed if he is awakened.

    MIke K (8df289)

  15. Maybe Reich is hinting that he could replace Geithner; either that, or Obama has lost the chattering classes.

    Ghastly political classes, for certain. Thanks for the link, Mike K.

    Patricia (2183bb)

  16. Had the teleprompter not been invented, Barry OHHHHH Bama would still be looking for his first accomplishment, which is reading aloud.
    The man is an unskilled con man. We expect far too much of him.

    He can’t even run his own life, I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine,

    gus (36e9a7)

  17. Re – Electric Cars.

    Every time the wee-minded local TV News anchors talk electric cars, and they do all the flipping time, they always manage to get in the piece that they drove for 40 miles for “free” before the battery was exhausted. Every single time I’m yelling at the TV – IT’S NOT FREE YOU DUNDERHEAD!!!! YOU PAY FOR THE ELECTRICITY!!!!!!

    Of course, these are the same dingbats that get technology stories wrong every time they do them. I’m a techno-nOOb and even I can tell that they do no research.

    Vivian Louise (c0f830)

  18. that they drove for 40 miles for “free” before the battery was exhausted.

    The reason that those dunderheads think it’s free is because they filled the car up via their TV station’s power supply – or their neighbors. Ergo, it’s free. Of course, you won’t ever hear that said electricity most likely came from a coal – fired plant, because that churns out tons of emissions…there goes your carbon smugness. You can witness the same phenomenon when they discuss any alternatives to oil – whether it’s wind farms, solar panels, or magic pixie dust made out of road apples, it’s all highly problematic in getting the energy actually transported effectively to the users.

    Dmac (49b16c)

  19. Nor do the Green Wienies care to discuss the efficacy of carbon credit BS comparisons between say, a Hummer and a Prius. They prefer you never know of the enormous energy and pollution entailed by extracting nickel from those Chicom mines to be used in the hybrids like Prius. There is a link somewhere comparing lifetime of a nickel-cadmium hybrid vs gasoline engines. Of course winbag algore would disagree and he himself has no problem owning an enormous enregy-inefficient houseboat or that mansion that uses 21 times the energy of a typical American’s domicile. Meanwhile the idiot who returned to his village in Texas actually does have a highly energy efficient home.
    Hey Fatboy Teddy, enjoy that sound view without windmills, you hypocritical arsewipe.

    aoibhneas (0c6cfc)

  20. Dmac @ 4:25 p.m.

    I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to say that stuff like that out loud.

    Dana (137151)

  21. #19 Comment by aoibhneas — 3/20/2009 @ 4:34 pm

    Of course winbag algore would disagree and he himself has no problem owning an enormous enregy-inefficient houseboat or that mansion that uses 21 times the energy of a typical American’s domicile. Meanwhile the idiot who returned to his village in Texas actually does have a highly energy efficient home.

    How funny is that — Mr. Bush’s home is a “green” home, while Mr. Gore’s home is a conventional mansion.

    On this issue, the obvious hypocrisy of Mr. Gore and his supporters is enormous.

    Pons Asinorum (11a0ef)

  22. All of this is “white collar welfare” for lawyers…

    80% of superfund spending went to legal and consulting expenses, will anything that Barry spends be different???

    phreshone (aad71d)

  23. Palin Pounces
    The woman who used a Down Syndrome infant as a campaign prop attacks a presidential joke:

    “I hope President Obama’s comments do not reflect how he truly feels about the special needs community.”

    Why am I not surprised? By the way, she just refused stimulus money for educating special needs children.

    With Sullivan saying this and Allah giving her crap from the other side, Palin can’t win.

    Joe (17aeff)

  24. Sully is disgusting

    JD (220a1a)

  25. Obama is communicating just fine with the leftists at Washington Monthly.

    Normally, it makes sense to think that people on Wall Street know more about running a financial system than people chosen at random, just as it makes sense to think that a successful director knows more about making movies than I do. When people reach positions of prominence in a given field, it makes sense to think that their opinions about the field they work in are entitled to some deference*. It takes a lot to completely forfeit any right to that deference. But the people in the financial services industries have managed to pull it off.

    And that’s what Mark Haines doesn’t get.

    So the people who are trying to salvage AIG for the taxpayer deserve to be what ? Re-educated in collective farms ? Harvesting sugar cane in Cuba ?

    What ?

    These people are beyond crazy.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  26. #25, these are individuals that can’t balance their checking account, why they think they know anything about the world of finance or how to judge “management talent” is beyond me.

    Jimminy'cricket (637168)

  27. Liberal spent 8 years making up lies in an attempt to slam GWB. All we have to do is watch a live action O’Dumbo make an a** of himself daily to have all the comic material we can handle.

    Congress dictating salaries and limiting bonuses for private corporation is no different than the strictest form of Communism. O’Dumbo didn’t slip communism it, his congress critters dropped it on our head like a sledgehammer.

    Scrapiron (996c34)

  28. The US is gambling on creating over a trillion dollars out of thin air to dig the nation out of a recession

    I’m very uneasy, very apprehensive about the implications of the Federal Reserve churning out over $1 trillion bucks, which even the NY Times described as coming out of “thin air,” or something to that effect.

    Throw in the neurotic religion of bowing at the altar of Mother Nature (aka, environmentalism gone berserk), which will further hamstring the American and international auto industry, add a healthy dose of shaky, wobbly foreign affairs (eg, Iran, Israel, etc), and mix in a pile of nonsensical liberal, big-mommy policymaking throughout the US political system — at the federal, state and local levels, and perverting both the legislative and judicial branches — over the next several years, and if this doesn’t incubate a perfect storm, then I don’t know what will.

    Mark (411533)

  29. […] asked “When will Barack Obama stop campaigning and actually govern the United States?” Patterico asks the same question, in much greater detail, as does D. L. Hammack over at American […]

    Come Saturday morning… | And Still I Persist (13e666)

  30. Stop “misunderestimating Obama. Regardless of his polls, he will always have real power to implement his agenda. Permanent expansion of the state control over the economy; accommodation to grievances against prior American (white) practices; hostility to the American military. This is Obama’s lodestone. It appears to me he has successfully started the first one. Impressive for a 60 day Presidency.

    To slow him down it starts in Congressional districts all across America during the 2010 elections.

    richardb (94bca2)

  31. This whole “Obama just isn’t communicating well” thing is coming from the JournoList, leftist and Obama Party belief that people are so stupid that they will swallow arsenic if it’s candy-coated and put into a sparkly box with kittens on it.

    Granted, given that over 50% of the population voted for Obama in the first place, you would see where they would come up with that idea. But at some point the American people are simply going to stop buying the line that the emperor has clothes on and that they simply aren’t cultured enough to understand the “nuance”.

    For everyone’s sake, I hope that point comes vers soon.

    North Dallas Thirty (4ef9d6)

  32. […] to Obama’s “too much, too soon” left-wing agenda in the general public, though balking Democratic Senators may be sufficient to halt it.  Michael Goodwin has escalated in the span of a week from suspecting […]

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