Commentary Magazine


Less Spin, More Listening

The Washington Post solicited advice on behalf of the president from a variety of pollsters, consultants, and analysts. Their advice is predictable. Get more rest. No, demand everyone go back to Washington. Explain why ObamaCare is good for everyone. No, dump ObamaCare and work on incremental reform. But they all seem to agree on one thing—the president has reached a perilous time in his term. Voters are tuning him out.

His health-care plan and, indeed, his entire agenda may have overreached and freaked out the public. But it is not yet clear whether the president thinks there’s much wrong with his policy or his strategy. Instead, we hear a flood of invective at his opponents and at voters. The straw men are back in droves: The Republicans don’t want reform. The critics don’t want health care for uninsured Americans. And on it goes. The crowds protesting his health-care plans are thugs or puppets. That doesn’t sound very self-reflective, does it?

We have yet to hear the president say he has listened to the concerns of his critics. He has started bashing insurance companies—and “health-care reform” is increasingly more often referred to as “health-insurance reform,” but we don’t know if that is just a pollster-driven readjustment in rhetoric or some broader revision in strategy.

If Obama is to regain lost ground, it may take a wholesale rethinking of his agenda and the political landscape. He sees a country amenable to a far-Left revolution. But the country is already exhausted and weary. He sees a discredited private sector. The public sees an overreaching government. He sees the 2008 election as an ideological mandate. The public just wants an economic recovery. There is a gap in both perception and expectation—one that won’t be easily solved by consultant-speak or by an avalanche of negative attacks against everyone not on board with Obama’s agenda. Either the public or the president needs to shift. Otherwise, the president’s fortunes will not improve anytime soon.

So forget the consultants’ advice. Instead, the president would do well to spend his vacation time listening rather than accusing. He might then understand why he has been losing the trust and support of his fellow citizens.