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Obama’s Communications Team Needs an Intervention

Much has been said already about President Obama’s rhetoric regarding the government shutdown–John Steele Gordon and Pete Wehner noted both the president’s dishonest and overheated comments. But there is a third category that rounds out the list: the president is saying an awful lot of things lately that don’t make any sense.

It’s possible that the White House was just caught off guard by the shutdown, but the president seems completely unprepared to talk about it. And to my mind, this undermines Obama more than the other rhetoric: politics ain’t beanbag, so people expect the president to occasionally have moments of incivility. Additionally, after the Obama campaign’s behavior during the 2012 election there isn’t much that should surprise people. The public is probably also getting used to Obama saying things that are flatly contradicted by reality. But I’m not so sure they expect their professor-president to make comments like this:

Now, like every new law, every new product rollout, there are going to be some glitches in the signup process along the way that we will fix.  I’ve been saying this from the start.  For example, we found out that there have been times this morning where the site has been running more slowly than it normally will.  The reason is because more than one million people visited healthcare.gov before 7:00 in the morning. …

Consider that just a couple of weeks ago, Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system.  And within days, they found a glitch, so they fixed it.  I don’t remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads — or threatening to shut down the company if they didn’t.  That’s not how we do things in America.  We don’t actively root for failure.  We get to work, we make things happen, we make them better, we keep going.

As people pointed out at the time, this is a preposterous analogy. Surely someone in the White House knows that Americans are not mandated to buy iPhones, as they are insurance. Nor, of course, are the members of the House, who hold key budgeting responsibilities, analogous to angry customers threatening to destroy someone else’s private phone manufacturer if a glitch wasn’t fixed–as the president suggested.

But then, we can’t assume too much about the president’s knowledge of the budgeting process. A few days earlier, the president said this:

As for not letting America pay its bills, I have to say, no Congress before this one has ever – ever — in history been irresponsible enough to threaten default, to threaten an economic shutdown, to suggest America not pay its bills, just to try to blackmail a President into giving them some concessions on issues that have nothing to do with a budget. 

Does the president actually think ObamaCare has nothing to do with the budget? He sounded like he believed that line, which is fairly disturbing. As National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke noted:

This is a law, remember, that was crowbarred through Congress with the questionable use of reconciliation, a parliamentary procedure that is reserved exclusively for budgetary matters; a law that was sold as a deficit-reduction measure; a law that contains a significant spending component, including a 5-10 percent increase in the size of the federal budget; and, alas, a law that boasts a central mandate that was upheld (rewritten) by the Supreme Court as a tax, thus ensuring that any changes to the penalties must be approved by the House.

And then today, Obama offered another bizarre analogy. This time Republicans were not angry iPhone users, but striking workers. And this is how Barack “I’ll walk on that picket line with you, as president of the United States of America” Obama explained it:

If you’re working here and in the middle of the day you just stopped and said, you know what, I want to get something, but I don’t know exactly what I’m going to get.  (Laughter.)  But I’m just going to stop working until I get something.  I’m going to shut down the whole plant until I get something. 

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  You’d get fired. 

THE PRESIDENT:  You’d get fired.  (Applause.)  Right?  Because the deal is you’ve already gotten hired.  You’ve got a job.  You’re getting a paycheck.  And so you also are getting the pride of doing a good job and contributing to a business and looking out for your fellow workers.  That’s what you’re getting.  Well, it shouldn’t be any different for a member of Congress.     

Well it’s good to know that all along Obama really sided with Scott Walker. Meanwhile, it’s not so easy to take the president seriously when he’s reciting lines like this–and that’s even more the case if he’s coming up with the lines himself. The president is fond of trying to convince the press that policy failures are really failures of communication. Whether or not they account for the perception of policy failure, the failures of communication are undeniable.



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