Commentary Magazine


Topic: communications strategy

Democratic Governors Upset with Obama

Reading the headline “Democrats worried about Obama track record,” one is tempted to say, “They should be.” Liz Sidoti and Ron Fournier write:

Democratic governors said Sunday they worry about President Barack Obama’s track record on fighting Republican political attacks and urged him to better connect with anxious voters. Some allies pleaded for a new election-year strategy focused on the economy.

“It’s got to be better thought out,” Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said. “It’s got to be more proactive.” And, he said, Democrats must hit back just as hard as they are hit by Republicans.

Eight months before the first midterm elections of Obama’s presidency, most Americans are frustrated with — even angered by — persistent unemployment and gridlock in Washington. Democrats fear voters will punish the party in power.

Nor do they buy Obama’s doubling-down strategy on health-care reform. (“Several Democratic colleagues agreed, and lamented that voters thought Obama focused too much on overhauling the U.S. health care system. Others fretted that Obama may appear to be out of touch with the concerns of Americans.”) Sidoti and Fournier detail a meeting between Democratic governors and Obama in which the former plead with Obama to get focused on the economy:

Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas urged Obama to focus more on the economy and limit his actions on the health care system to changes that would bring down the cost of medical treatment in the United States. … While praising the White House’s communication’s efforts, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offered this advice to Obama: “Rapidly decide what we’re doing on health care and then move to jobs and the economy.” “We need a national economic strategy,” he added.

And not even Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, an Obama confidant, thinks much of the Obama communications strategy or the “tit for tat” battle to blame Republicans.

What’s remarkable is not only the widespread dismay with the president but also the willingness of these Democrats to make public their concerns. That tells us that the White House isn’t listening and isn’t receptive to their pleas. Maybe Obama will be more amenable after the November election.

Reading the headline “Democrats worried about Obama track record,” one is tempted to say, “They should be.” Liz Sidoti and Ron Fournier write:

Democratic governors said Sunday they worry about President Barack Obama’s track record on fighting Republican political attacks and urged him to better connect with anxious voters. Some allies pleaded for a new election-year strategy focused on the economy.

“It’s got to be better thought out,” Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said. “It’s got to be more proactive.” And, he said, Democrats must hit back just as hard as they are hit by Republicans.

Eight months before the first midterm elections of Obama’s presidency, most Americans are frustrated with — even angered by — persistent unemployment and gridlock in Washington. Democrats fear voters will punish the party in power.

Nor do they buy Obama’s doubling-down strategy on health-care reform. (“Several Democratic colleagues agreed, and lamented that voters thought Obama focused too much on overhauling the U.S. health care system. Others fretted that Obama may appear to be out of touch with the concerns of Americans.”) Sidoti and Fournier detail a meeting between Democratic governors and Obama in which the former plead with Obama to get focused on the economy:

Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas urged Obama to focus more on the economy and limit his actions on the health care system to changes that would bring down the cost of medical treatment in the United States. … While praising the White House’s communication’s efforts, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offered this advice to Obama: “Rapidly decide what we’re doing on health care and then move to jobs and the economy.” “We need a national economic strategy,” he added.

And not even Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, an Obama confidant, thinks much of the Obama communications strategy or the “tit for tat” battle to blame Republicans.

What’s remarkable is not only the widespread dismay with the president but also the willingness of these Democrats to make public their concerns. That tells us that the White House isn’t listening and isn’t receptive to their pleas. Maybe Obama will be more amenable after the November election.

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It Is Not Going to Help

If you had to make a list of things wrong with the Obama presidency, “not enough like the campaign” would probably not be on it. On the contrary, campaigning seems to be all the administration does: too many speeches, pep rallies, fake events, and attacks on opponents and not enough serious governance. But that’s not how the Obami see it. So we hear that “the White House is infusing its communications strategy with some of the ironclad discipline and outside-the-box thinking that made the Obama presidential campaign famous — and successful.”

What this boils down to is a grudging recognition that the president is overexposed (OK, that’s good) and a determination to be even less forthcoming with the press (hold more “carefully choreographed interactions with the press,” they declare) and more aggressive with opponents (“more direct, rapid response to criticism”).

Sigh. Yes, this gang imagines that less transparency and more hyper-partisanship are the way to go. Sadly, there is no brave soul there to say, “Ah, Mr. President, I think we are already getting slammed for being too secretive and thin-skinned.” More than the particulars of what they are proposing, what is so cringe-inducing is the reliance on a campaign perspective to pull them out of their tailspin. It confirms that, indeed, this is all they know, all they do well. When stressed or confused (much of the time now, it seems), they clutch for the security blanket of campaign events and campaign tactics.

At some level, even they understand that this is all arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic stuff. “There is no communications strategy that makes 10 percent unemployment look good,” concedes communications chief Dan Pfeiffer. And there is no communications strategy that is going to lure Evan Bayh back to the Senate or explain how we have let another year pass as the mullahs build their nukes or make the proposed budget look fiscally sane or make ObamaCare look good to the two-thirds of Americans who hate it. What is wrong with the Obama presidency is not a botched communication strategy (although the president himself has become a bore and whines too much). The core problems are Obama’s insistence on a radical domestic agenda, pursuit of dangerous and unpopular national-security policies, and the absence of a chief executive who is practiced and skilled in governance. And, honestly, acting more like a candidate and less like the president isn’t going to help matters.

If you had to make a list of things wrong with the Obama presidency, “not enough like the campaign” would probably not be on it. On the contrary, campaigning seems to be all the administration does: too many speeches, pep rallies, fake events, and attacks on opponents and not enough serious governance. But that’s not how the Obami see it. So we hear that “the White House is infusing its communications strategy with some of the ironclad discipline and outside-the-box thinking that made the Obama presidential campaign famous — and successful.”

What this boils down to is a grudging recognition that the president is overexposed (OK, that’s good) and a determination to be even less forthcoming with the press (hold more “carefully choreographed interactions with the press,” they declare) and more aggressive with opponents (“more direct, rapid response to criticism”).

Sigh. Yes, this gang imagines that less transparency and more hyper-partisanship are the way to go. Sadly, there is no brave soul there to say, “Ah, Mr. President, I think we are already getting slammed for being too secretive and thin-skinned.” More than the particulars of what they are proposing, what is so cringe-inducing is the reliance on a campaign perspective to pull them out of their tailspin. It confirms that, indeed, this is all they know, all they do well. When stressed or confused (much of the time now, it seems), they clutch for the security blanket of campaign events and campaign tactics.

At some level, even they understand that this is all arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic stuff. “There is no communications strategy that makes 10 percent unemployment look good,” concedes communications chief Dan Pfeiffer. And there is no communications strategy that is going to lure Evan Bayh back to the Senate or explain how we have let another year pass as the mullahs build their nukes or make the proposed budget look fiscally sane or make ObamaCare look good to the two-thirds of Americans who hate it. What is wrong with the Obama presidency is not a botched communication strategy (although the president himself has become a bore and whines too much). The core problems are Obama’s insistence on a radical domestic agenda, pursuit of dangerous and unpopular national-security policies, and the absence of a chief executive who is practiced and skilled in governance. And, honestly, acting more like a candidate and less like the president isn’t going to help matters.

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When Everything Is Bleak, Attack Fox News

The Obami are nothing if not persistent. Fox News may be the fastest-growing cable news network. The White House vendetta against those so stiff-necked as to refuse to view the world through the White House’s news prism may have backfired, making the Obami look paranoid and thin-skinned. But why change? After all, the White House is riding high and has the pulse of the electorate, right? Oh well, not at all. But Fox is still to be vilified and marginalized. The Hill reports:

Leadership of the White House’s communication shop may have changed, but its new chief made clear on Monday he shares his predecessor’s concerns about Fox News. The network is “not a traditional news organization,” director Dan Pfeiffer stressed, adding he agreed with former Director Anita Dunn’s take on the network. … “We don’t feel the obligation to treat them like we would treat a CNN, or an ABC, or an NBC, or a traditional news organization, but there are times when we believe it makes sense to communicate with them,” he added, noting the White House’s decision to dispatch counter-terrorism chief John Brennan to Fox News Sunday after the Flight 253 attack was one example of that.

I suppose when you have your communications strategy wired, when every election in the past few months has gone your way, and when you have a firm grip on the independent voters who watch Fox in huge numbers, you can afford to be arrogant. But when none of those things is true and the White House has spent days scrambling to undo the damage from an embarrassingly lackluster presidential response to terrorism, the administration might want to think about reaching out beyond their spin-cocoon. They might want to try to erase the image of their being incapable of interacting with those who fail to provide reverential coverage. After all, three years is a long time to continue their current downward trajectory, which is the result of this sort of arrogance and of their insistence on ignoring those who refuse to nod approvingly, parrot the line of the day, and avoid asking impertinent questions.

The Obami are nothing if not persistent. Fox News may be the fastest-growing cable news network. The White House vendetta against those so stiff-necked as to refuse to view the world through the White House’s news prism may have backfired, making the Obami look paranoid and thin-skinned. But why change? After all, the White House is riding high and has the pulse of the electorate, right? Oh well, not at all. But Fox is still to be vilified and marginalized. The Hill reports:

Leadership of the White House’s communication shop may have changed, but its new chief made clear on Monday he shares his predecessor’s concerns about Fox News. The network is “not a traditional news organization,” director Dan Pfeiffer stressed, adding he agreed with former Director Anita Dunn’s take on the network. … “We don’t feel the obligation to treat them like we would treat a CNN, or an ABC, or an NBC, or a traditional news organization, but there are times when we believe it makes sense to communicate with them,” he added, noting the White House’s decision to dispatch counter-terrorism chief John Brennan to Fox News Sunday after the Flight 253 attack was one example of that.

I suppose when you have your communications strategy wired, when every election in the past few months has gone your way, and when you have a firm grip on the independent voters who watch Fox in huge numbers, you can afford to be arrogant. But when none of those things is true and the White House has spent days scrambling to undo the damage from an embarrassingly lackluster presidential response to terrorism, the administration might want to think about reaching out beyond their spin-cocoon. They might want to try to erase the image of their being incapable of interacting with those who fail to provide reverential coverage. After all, three years is a long time to continue their current downward trajectory, which is the result of this sort of arrogance and of their insistence on ignoring those who refuse to nod approvingly, parrot the line of the day, and avoid asking impertinent questions.

Read Less

The Politics of Whining

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is: “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is: “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Read Less




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