O Brotherhood, Where Art Thou? (Ezra Klein versus … Me (and Others))

Oh, dear.  I like Ezra Klein. A lot.  So I’ll leave out the sarcasm–a necessity anyway, since I’ve already exhausted this week’s supply.

But I do want to point out, because he’s so influential now, that Klein’s piece yesterday siding with those who thought Obama’s speech Monday should not have set forth liberal policy positions in so in-your-face a manner, and should not have called the Republicans on their conservative ones, seems, best as I can tell, to conflate two distinct points.  More important, it fails to recognize that the events of the last week concerning the debt-ceiling issue prove one of those points wrong.

Klein argues, weirdly, in my opinion, that the presidential bully pulpit is not very effective, because most people don’t watch presidential speeches.  And it’s certainly true that, in the current era, most people don’t watch presidential speeches.  They may see short clips from it on the TV news, or see headlines about it in a newspaper or online, but even if they see the speech itself, it won’t change many people’s minds; almost everyone already has made up their mind about the subjects addressed in the speech.  And, by making an ideological speech, Obama made it less likely that the congressional Republicans will cooperate with him at all–a presumption disproved by this morning’s headlines confirming what already had been reported yesterday as likely.

O, brotherhood, where art thou?  Thou art back in the first nearly-four years of Obama’s first term, in which he failed even to publicly correct patent disinformation by the Republicans, such as about what the debt ceiling is and what “raising it means–and doesn’t mean.

Klein’s right that the speech itself probably didn’t change any minds.  He’s wrong, though, that it was intended to do that.  It was an inaugural speech, not, say, a highly publicized press conference at which he finally educates the public about such things as the debt ceiling statute and thus demonstrates to the Republicans that the success of that particular bit of their disinformation campaign is at an end.  

I can’t understand why so many political pundits–and why Obama himself, for so long–have found it so hard to grasp the difference between political rhetoric and clear statements of actual fact and refutations of misrepresentations of fact.  

And, if it’s true that the presidential (and presidential-candidate) bully pulpit has little effect in educating and persuading, then why have presidential campaigns, at all?  In fact, this last one was quite effective in deconstructing critical disinformation by Romney, Ryan, and the “conservative movement,” wasn’t it?

Klein’s piece was titled, “Reminder: Big presidential speeches (mostly) don’t matter.”  True, when the speech is just rhetoric rather than an invocation of actual fact.  Or when the speech is not intended to throw down an ideological gauntlet, as this one was. And did.