When is Obama going to stop talking to us? To reduce his campaign-style appearances each week? To reduce his seeming, non-stop availabilities to the media? To turn down a request for an interview with a network news show?
Obama's very high visibility has not only gotten ridiculous, but, I think it's hurting his presidency. I like Obama and I'm sick of seeing him! He has diminished the value of his public appearances by making them so frequently.
In fact, when I hear a White House correspondent utter a phrase like "Obama will be out pushing for health care reform....," my reaction now is to groan and wish he'd simply stay in the White House. I find it hard to believe that Obama and his team still think his constant appearances crusading for health care do the slightest good; the evidence is to the contrary. Any potential reform bill -- which will be watered-down and unambitious now - is dangling by a thread, with a huge risk of rejection. The Obama White House should de-emphasize their internal polls and apply common sense.
The American people want results right now. It's a rough time. Talk feels even more "cheap" and meaningless than usual.
There's another, more troubling aspect to this: Obama actually does seem too impressed with himself and his impact on people, in general. I didn't want to believe this, but, now, I've seen enough. Obama's top advisors seem to share this outlook, which I will not yet label "delusional," but, the symptoms need to fade away or I'm going to wonder who's perceiving a sufficient dose of reality in the White House.
There are many examples, but I'll cite one: Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts. The White House line afterward was that Brown was tapping into the same voter anger that Obama had tapped into during his 2008 presidential campaign. No, sorry, White House folks, but independents in Massachusetts were angry at YOU and how YOU'RE approaching things. You represent "The Government" now and "the country's direction," in general.
Now, I think Obama, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel and company are too intelligent to deny realities on the ground - and, perhaps their spin about Brown is strategic, but, it reflects a year-long tendency to be too slow to respond to public concerns that have deepened, and, evolved into anger and disgust with the Administration's approach. Much of the concern, it seems, is that the government is doing too much, spending too much and taking control of too many things.
How can this Administration have NOT picked up more on the obvious anti-government sentiment bubbling across this country? Yes, a chunk of it is unfairly and irrationally being directed at Obama, when, in fact, Obama HAD to get an economic stimulus passed and HAD to oversee government intervention with the banks and auto industry. But the sentiment is real.I think the White House's overemphasis on the President's role as The Promoter, The Explainer, The Talker Who Can Provide Answers On Every Topic is a large part of the problem. Obama needs to stay in the Oval Office more. His team needs to expand and add some good experts who can also speak publicly on topics. (people NOT like Tim Geithner or Larry Summers) And, this White House - as I've said for a year - needs to find good "surrogates," or allies, who will serve as excellent spokespeople for the Administration's agenda. It should not always be Barack Obama doing the speaking!!!!!
Back in September, I wrote about Obama's overexposure and I quoted a piece by Howard Fineman of Newsweek, who observed that Obama seemed too impressed by the impact of his mere presence on the stage.
Fineman, in the Feb. 8, 2010 Newsweek, is still writing insightfully on this topic.
"...Most Americans like Obama as a person, and most want him to succeed as a president. But he has to remember that he's supposed to be a character in our story -- not the other way around...Unlike his perfectly placed memoirs, Obama's presidency is not a narrative whose plot he can dictate, or even control..."
I think Fineman is on the money. Obama and his team seem to have an inflated view of the President's capacities. When will it sink in with this team that Obama's appearances do NOT help solve real problems that their White House must tackle? I think people are "on" to the fact that Obama's oratory, while often terrific, may or may not be followed up with action.
In fact, it's in the area of taking ACTION that Obama seems to need the most help. He needs some "field generals" making the rounds on Capitol Hill, talking to members of the US Congress, staying in touch, and trying to maintain support for the White House's legislative priorities.
One would think - after the Administration's disastrous approach toward health care reform - that they'd try radically new approaches -- with new people in key assignments - at the start of 2010. The only step resembling this was the Obama team bringing back David Plouffe, former campaign manager in 2008, to oversee the Democratic National Committee's political handling of the 2010 congressional elections. But, I hope Plouffe ends up assisting in the White House more than focusing on elections.
What concerns me about Obama is that, after only a year, he's showing a few signs of distancing himself from the public - from realities in everyone's day-to-day world. I get a sense he's spending so much time around pollsters, policy wonks, military officials, and politicians when, he might benefit from hanging out at some bars, department stores and grocery stores and listen to what real people are saying. Example: Obama waited for months before he spelled out his Afghanistan policy and decision to send in 30,000 additional troops, but, in his announcement speech, he left out some basic, central facts -- as if to suggest "Well, they'll get the idea - It only matters if me and my team know what's really going on..." So, Obama never explained sufficiently why the US was sending all the troops to a country where Al Quaeda was no longer located. He didn't even try to explain large factors relating to Pakistan.
I hope Obama is not on a slippery slope of becoming more and more out of touch. What's ironic though is that when he goes out on his weekly "campaign" appearances to different parts of the country, he'd benefit more by going into the crowd and just listening rather than lecturing from the stage.
Obama needs to get off the stage - and stay off for a while. Then, when he returned, he could talk about what he'd gotten done in the intervening months. His appearance would have more value again.