For months in the
run-up to the 2010 elections, pundits wondered aloud how President Obama would
respond to the impending defeat of his party at the ballot box. Typically a
chagrinned president moves to the center if the voters part ways with him in
the midterm elections. But Obama had also been very consistent — with a few
exceptions — in implementing strongly progressive policy at the federal level.
So would Obama choose Clintonian moderation, or Pelosian determination?
The direction of the administration for the
next two years may not be clear yet, but one thing we didn’t have to wait for
was the president’s interpretation of why the House of Representatives was lost
by a substantial margin and the Senate only narrowly stayed in Democratic
“I think the Republicans were able to
paint my governing philosophy as a classic, traditional big government liberal,
and that’s not something the American people want,” the president opined
in a “60 Minutes” interview several days after the election.
“I think the Republicans were
successful,” he added a moment later, “in creating a picture of the
Obama administration as one that was contrary to those common-sense, mainstream
values about the size of government.”
Other than depicting the Republicans as no more
than a collection of Picassos, Obama’s explanation is nothing new. It seems
that whenever the Republicans or the Democrats lose the American people, it’s
never that the product is flawed. It’s just the goons over in marketing that
botched the sale of it.
This method is the perfect escape hatch for
anyone in the public eye when the polls turn against them. My philosophy is
fine. I was just too focused on effecting positive change to play the
politician game as well as my politician opponents. Did I mention they are
politicians and I’m not?
The it’s-just-a-marketing-issue issue has been
around for a long time, and it’ll be around for a longer time to come. For
folks who spend all day in Washington crafting a message, of course their train
of thought would easily explore whether or not they succeeded. As with any good
spin doctor, their mind was already on the message anyway.
But this also reflects an inability to accept
genuine blame for your actions. Obama criticizing himself for losing the
messaging war is much like the job interviewee claiming perfectionism as his
greatest flaw. We’ve all heard of the backhanded compliment that’s really an
insult, but what about the insult that’s really a compliment?
Obama’s take on the failures of his
communications strategy feels suspiciously like the gentleman who says with
aristocratic politeness, “I must have misspoken,” when really he
meant, “You weren’t listening to me.”
Beyond all that, Obama’s explanation simply
doesn’t make sense. The president and the Democrats produced endless speeches,
press conferences, press releases, summits, in-district events and town halls
(until those became counter-productive). They argued for their spending
packages, healthcare reform and increased government controls until they were
blue in the face (pun not intended, but accepted).
Am I the only one to think it odd for the
famed, charismatic orator who crushed the unbeatable Hillary Clinton in 2008 to
claim that he’s just no good at pitching his ideas?
It seems more likely that Obama’s rhetoric only
failed him as president because a campaign is all talk. When the people
measured that talk up against his actions, as inevitably comes with governing,
there was too much of a disconnect for even Obama to overcome.
Contrast Obama’s post-election self-reflection
with former President Bush’s in his new book, f. Bush concedes he should’ve put more troops into Louisiana after Hurricane
Katrina, faster. He didn’t know at first how big the 2008 financial meltdown
was. The infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner on the aircraft
carrier after the Iraq War in 2003 was another blunder.
For all his reputation of an inability to admit
mistakes, it seems only two years out W. is more willing to point out his own
failings than the quiet kid in the back who’s looking for reasons not to ask
out the prom queen.
I’ve got plenty of criticisms of my own for the
Bush presidency, and it’s undeniable that he cares about history’s eventual
verdict. But I find his recent publicity tour refreshing in its candor and
directness. It’s obvious Bush is a politician no longer, having reached the end
of his political career, feeling liberated to appraise his own decisions
without tired political tactics.
Unlike President Obama.
Paint a picture of ROB OLSON and send it to