Commentary Magazine


The Obama Communication Myth

Democrats are awaiting President Obama’s acceptance speech at their National Convention tonight with a bit less excitement than the breathless anticipation that many of them had for former President Clinton’s oration. But the expectations for the event, albeit lacking the drama of an outdoor stadium setting and with fireworks or balloons waiting to fall upon the happy candidate at its conclusion, are still considerable. Though few doubt Obama will give a good speech, his supporters still seem to feel that he must wow the audience in Charlotte and at home watching on television. Part of this sense of urgency is driven by their belief that the only real failure of his administration has been an inability to communicate with voters.

That has been coming through loud and clear this week in Charlotte as Democrats keep telling Americans that they are better off than they were four years ago. With straight faces they say his policies have all worked, that the economy has been healed by his wisdom and that all we need to do is give Barack Obama another four years and America’s future is assured. The only thing they don’t seem to understand is why the majority of Americans consistently say they disapprove of the president’s job performance and think the country is heading in the wrong direction. They tend to put that down to the wicked plots of Republicans as well as what they see as an inexplicable reluctance on the part of the president to adequately explain himself or to respond to attacks. That is a conviction fostered by the president himself as well as by pundits like the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, who gave Obama an “F” for communication in a report card otherwise strewn with A’s and B’s. But this mythical communications gap tells us more about the disconnect between liberals and the voters than it does about Obama’s failings.

While this administration has produced very little in the way of results in terms of fixing the economy, it has never been short of words. Throughout his first two years in office, when he had the luxury of controlling both houses of Congress, Obama made it clear to Republicans that “elections had consequences” and that he wouldn’t compromise on his plans. He got his trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle and then the following year his health care plan over the objections of many in his party who feared the country couldn’t afford it and didn’t want it. As a result of this, the Democrats lost Congress and he has spent the last two years asking the Republicans to adhere to an idea of compromise in which they must abandon their principles to accommodate his views.

Liberals also labor under a victim mentality in which they believe Obama and the Democrats have failed to respond to dastardly Republican attacks. But as Politico notes today, there is no question that the Obama campaign has run rings around the GOP in terms of launching vicious personal attacks on Mitt Romney and his party.

Somehow it has never occurred to liberals that public discontent is produced by their disagreement with their policies rather than their lack of success in explaining them. Like the proverbial “ugly American” abroad, they seem to think that if they only speak loudly and slowly enough, their words will be understood and their demands granted. That’s why Democrats swooned over Bill Clinton’s speech last night and expect to do the same when Obama claims his nomination today.

Even if the president knocks it out of the park tonight in the manner of a Clinton, that won’t solve his problem. The only thing that will do that is an improvement in the economy. Americans have had four years of Obama’s rhetoric. More words from him, no matter how eloquent or lauded by the press, will not solve his problems.