John Dickerson Halts This Week’s Nonsense Juggernaut. Or At Least He Tries To.
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.
It’s not just Obama, it’s Krugman too. I want both of them to pull a Ross Perot or a George Shultz move here. Take out a whiteboard and put at the very top of it : Aggregate Demand. Then define it. Then go through the various options for each policy the right is proposing and produce a number. If the number gets bigger, that means more jobs and income. If the number gets smaller, less jobs and less income. Drum this simple equation into the minds of everyone until it becomes as common as e=mcsquared. Why can’t they just explain macro simply?
because they don’t want to.
obama at least was “selected” for his potential nixon goes to china schtick. that means he needs to keep the deficit hysteria going long enough to cut the heart out of Social Security.
krugman, despite being occasionally right about SS, continues to fail to get the utter simplicity of letting the workers continue to pay for it themselves, as they always have, as FDR intended.. for eighty cents more per week each year until they are paying for their own expected costs of retirement at the current retirement age with the current replacement rate (monthly benefits as a percent of earnings).
The advantage of having the President do the “fireside chat” thing is not his ability to explain things to the public, but instead it creates a news worthy event that the media cannot avoid reporting. The content of the chat needs to be simple enough for the journalist crowd to understand it. More importantly the White House has to set in place the follow up by experts like Krugman to report on the validity and importance of what the President had said. That is a critical part of gettinig a message across to the masses. You can’t repeat a message too often. It has to be hammered. It wouldn’t hurt to have several well spoken other elected officials to repeat the message. The public doens’t learn from elected officials. It assimilates only what becomes common knnowledge through the media, print and broadcast.
And BTW, Krugman is less efective on the air than he is in print. Everyone has their unique capabilities. Speaking to the public is a rare skill. The Obama administration doesn’t seem to get much assistance in that regard. That seems a bit strange.
I think Krugman does an absolutely terrific job stating the facts and explaining Keynesian economics–especially the part that is directly at issue in the fiscal debate, which is what I’m talking about. (The Fed stuff is inside-baseball economics, and is not something that Obama or anyone else needs to try to explain to the general public.) I’ve wondered many times why Obama doesn’t just basically reiterate Krugman’s short explanations of it, since they’re clear and very easy to understand.
But what’s really, really dismaying is Obama’s failure to simply tell the public basic facts, such as what the 2011 debt-ceiling agreement actually contained–huge spending cuts and no tax increases–and that federal, state and local spending all are down substantially, and that the federal deficit is declining right now. Then–then–he should explain that tax hikes on the wealthy are necessary to avoid more draconian cuts.
This isn’t hard to do. It’s really not. But the punditry doesn’t like the idea of him doing it. Why? I have no idea. Instead, they just keep saying he should be nicer to the congressional Repubs. Y’know, as if that worked so well during his first term.
As for Krugman, I don’t know what more he can do. He can’t commandeer the Oval Office and make a speech.
I wish Obama would enlist Bill Clinton and also Joe Biden in having them state the facts to the public and explain basic economic principles. Either one of them could get some public attention for what they say. Obama himself just isn’t going to do what’s necessary. So why not let others try?
You have to know the jig would be up the moment Obama noted the declining deficit.
How can we reasonably expect Obama to explain Keynes when all his activities related to economic as seen with his appointments come from Milton? Clinton? Milton too.
As Glenn Greenwald has noted many times. Obama’s results are what they are because it is what he wants because it is what he believes.
Keynes is not in his belief system. Milton is.
“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?”
Because he believes in right wing policies and is implementing them. Really, this is not hard.