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Fixing the “Communications Problem” Won’t Make Much of a Difference

CNN’s James Carville has written a “memo” to the president, offering advice on how he should talk about the economy. Among the recommendations Carville offers is Obama needs to “feel their pain,” greater message discipline, be more mindful of “wonder political opportunities” as they present themselves (like reappointing Peter Diamond to the Fed board, which should do wonders for Obama’s approval rating), and warning voters Republicans want to reinstate the polices that got us into this mess in the first place.

Now one can debate how creative and impressive these suggestions are (count me as underwhelmed). But my point is a somewhat different one, which is that political strategists speak as if fixing the president’s “communications problem” will significantly shape the outcome of events. It won’t. And even if  Obama made the best arguments in the most compelling way possible, that cannot begin to undo most of the political damage a sick economy does to a president’s standing.

What matters is reality, not rhetoric; objective conditions, not “message discipline;” economic growth and the unemployment rate, not the Federal Reserve’s Peter Diamond testifying before a Senate committee. “Morning in America” worked for Ronald Reagan not so much because it was an ingenious campaign ad; but because the economy was surging.

President Obama has to say something, of course, and it’s better for him if he makes good arguments rather than bad ones. But no one, including the president, should pretend it will make much of a difference. Unlike in 2008, the public will judge Obama by his deeds rather than his words. Too bad for him.



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