I’m a longtime Slate devotee, and as part of that devotion I’ve had a longtime love-hate relationship with John Dickerson, Slate’s chief political correspondent. By which I mean that I either love or hate his columns, in about even percentages.
Today’s column is one of the best political analyses I’ve read in a while. It’s long, and really deconstructs several of the incessant political-pundit truisms, sophisms, false analogies, and outright falsehoods that masquerade right now as political analysis concerning Obama, political “leadership,” and political leadership.
No redundancy in that last sentence. Really. Which is Dickerson’s point.
That quote, above, is from the latter part of the column, and it speaks for itself. It also speaks for me, since I’ve been saying that, repeatedly, here in AB. But I want to add this to that quote: It’s absolutely true that the problem is not the method itself, if by “method” he means campaigning for policies. But it’s also true that there is more to the likelihood of its success than whether the president is using it at the right moment. How he campaigns publicly for policies, as well as when he campaigns publicly for policies, is crucial. And a hallmark of Obama’s presidency is, in my opinion, stupifying ineptitude in both respects.
The first part of Dickerson’s article proves false the lazy political analogies offered by so many pundits between Obama’s situation and LBJ’s, and between Obama’s situation and Reagan’s, as the pundits offer those analogies: The earlier presidents’ effective working of the “inside game.” But it is the outside game–the persuading-the-public part–where Obama incomprehensibly and repeatedly fails and where he should be unflatteringly compared with past presidents. With virtually all part presidents, in fact–including George W. Bush, who Dickerson points out campaigned extensively for his Social Security privatization policy proposal in 2005 and lost the policy argument.
These presidents–none of them–failed to educate the public about what their policy proposals were, and, when relevant, what the opposition’s policy proposals were. And–incredibly important concerning issues on which the public does not have the basic facts relevant to the policy proposal–these presidents (no other president, I’d bet) failed, on issue after issue after issue, to educate the public about the facts necessary to assess the policy proposal or the competing policy proposals.
Last week, Dan Crawford linked to a Barkley Rosser post at Econospeak from Feb. 27 saying that polling indicates that only 6% of the public knows that the deficit is declining. Here’s what Rosser said:
Obama consistently cedes public opinion to the right by allowing the right to profoundly misinform the public about critical facts. Why does he do this?
Last week, a day or two before the sequester took hold, he went to a town near a naval base in Virginia to stand among people who stood to lose their jobs or be furloughed temporarily from the sequester. It was, of course, supposed to illustrate that the sequester would hurt the economy. But most people don’t live near a military base and most people don’t work for a defense contractor.
What he needed to do instead is what he’s needed to do all along: explain Keynesian economics; use statistics to show that a key reason why the economy has been so slow to recover is that governments at all levels have reduced their spending (state and local governments, dramatically); show the public, using charts and specifics, that the 2011 debt ceiling deal included huge spending cuts and no tax increases; and make clear what tax increases, and on whom and what, you are proposing (e.g., what loopholes you’re proposing to close).
The only headway he’s made politically on this was from his one recent foray into meaningfully explaining some of this to the public, in a press conference in (I think) mid-January. The centrist pundits were deeply offended by it, but it got enough publicity that the general public understood important facts that they did not before.
I don’t expect that Obama will actually speak live on TV to the public during primetime for about 10 minutes (which is all it would take) to actually provide important information in a way that would reach a lot of people. That would be just so LBJ. Or Ronald Reagan. Or Bill Clinton. Or George W. Bush. It’s much better, or at least (apparently) a lot easier, to give away the store, because the centrist pundits will applaud. So that is what I expect that Obama will decide to do, and what he will do if the Senate Dems allow it.