Commentary Magazine


The Death of the Poor Salesman Myth

Earlier, I wondered whether Democrats would fall into a trap of their own making by goading President Obama into engaging in personal attacks on Mitt Romney in the next presidential debate. But it appears that some on the left prefer to return to one of their old standbys to explain the president’s flop in the debate: he’s a bad salesman for brilliant policies. That’s the tack taken by New York Times editorialist David Firestone today in a piece in which he argues that the president’s inability to defend his record on the stage in Denver is no different from what the writer considers the failures of Democrats to speak up for ObamaCare, the stimulus and even the sequester of funds that will results in huge defense cuts.

Firestone is right about one thing. The president does consider the act of explaining liberal projects to the public tiresome and somehow “beneath him.” But the Times writer fails to observe that liberals have actually been defending these ideas for all four years of the Obama administration. Their failure to gain support for them from the public isn’t the fault of Obama’s poor salesmanship, but due to the fact that most Americans, including those who distrust the Republicans, are wary of a huge expansion of government power, unchecked federal spending and gutting national defense. That is why the only successes Democrats have had in putting across their ideas hasn’t stemmed from championing these unpopular policies but from sliming their opponents. When they abandon such tactics, as Obama did last night, they are left with very little that the voters find compelling.

Firestone also disputes the idea that the debate was substantive since personal attacks were left out in favor of detailed discussions about taxes, budgets and health care. Taking up the Democrat talking point of the day, he claims Romney lied and that Obama should have “ridiculed him with facts.” But Romney wasn’t lying. Disagreeing with liberal ideology isn’t a lie; it’s a disagreement, a concept that liberal ideologues seem to have trouble grasping. If, as Firestone says, “uninformed viewers” [were left] with the impression that Mr. Romney was crisper and had more “facts” at his fingertips,” it was because that was the case. Mr. Obama was a poor salesman for himself and his ideas last night. But his problem is that his ideas are no more attractive than the irritated and arrogant air that the president exhibited during the debate.

How long will it take the left in this country to understand that merely asserting that they are right and that Republicans are fools and knaves is not an argument? Perhaps never. At least conservatives should hope so, because if Obama listens to the advice of people like Firestone, he’s setting himself up for another beating at the next debate.