Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Things Are Getting Ugly

Jim Geraghty mentioned this in his Campaign Jolt newsletter this morning, but it's good to see other people mocking the White House for its decision that messaging has been the problem. The White House strategy was explained by the Washington Post...
White House officials are retooling the administration's communications strategy to produce faster responses to political adversaries, a more disciplined focus on President Obama's call for "change" in Washington and an increasingly selective use of the president's time.

The messaging adjustments are the result of an end-of-the-year analysis in which White House advisers said the president's communications team had not taken the initiative often enough and had allowed drawn-out debates in Congress, and relentless criticism by Republicans, to drown out his message.

"It was clear that too often we didn't have the ball -- Congress had the ball in terms of driving the message," communications director Dan Pfeiffer said. "In 2010, the president will constantly be doing high-profile things to be the person driving the narrative."

Senior White House aides described the changes as an aggressive response, aimed at producing fresh momentum for the president's faltering agenda and regaining the advantage ahead of the congressional midterm elections in November.

Vice President Biden's appearances on two Sunday morning talk shows were part of the new response -- in this case, to rebut former vice president Richard B. Cheney's accusations that the administration is weak on terrorism. Biden, who taped one of the shows in advance, said his predecessor was attempting to "rewrite history."

Obama's surprise news conference last week -- his first in nearly seven months -- is another example. After a bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders, Obama faced the media to declare his willingness to work with Republicans. But he warned: "I also won't hesitate to condemn what I consider to be obstinacy that's rooted not in substantive disagreements but in political expedience."
I am reasonably certain that in the history of mankind, there has been no situation that been made better by having Joe Biden speak. Let's put that stupid idea aside for a second. Jonah Goldberg makes the point more succintly on the rest of this strategy...
So wait, the multiple trips to Copenhagen, the five-Sunday-show-in-one-day-marathon, three joint session addresses to Congress in one year, the prime-time news conferences, the state dinner, the speech in Cairo: These don't add up to "constantly" doing "high profile things"? What's he going to do in 2010, wrestle an alligator in the Map Room? Crown himself Holy Roman Emperor? Challenge the pope to a game of Boggle?
Is messaging a problem? Sure, in so far as it's been bad thus far. But the problem here is that they're trotting out the same basic tactic -- more Obama! Now with a side of Biden! I know people who were sick of seeing the President on TV last March, when he insisted on giving us his NCAA picks and hobnobbing on The Tonight Show. And they aren't even conservatives.

Aggressive political pushback can indeed be very effective in brining people to your side -- but it's usually far more effective in rallying your base than attracting independants and the other side.

Obama's newfound willingness to work with the GOP isn't going to get conservatives to trust him, because he only discovered it after he lost the 60th vote in the Senate. Add in the statement about obstinancy, and they're probably thinking this is politics as usual from the President.

As for independants, I'm at a loss to understadn how pushing for bipartisanship while simultaneously attacking the other side for failing to engage accomplishes much, other than getting voters a bit more angry at incumbents... hearing people argue about how the other side's not being bi-partisan is pretty much one more piece of evidence that Washington doesn't get it. and since your party is the one featuring more incumbents, I'm not sure the strategy does much for it. Perhaps it will help the President, but it's a little difficult for him to run against his own Congress. And it probably leads them to conclude they should run against him as well.

This is turning into some dangerous political territory for the President -- and I haven't even mentioned Evah Bayh yet. Tom Maguire is right that Bayh sounded like he's thinking about a primary challenge to Obama, but that might be a stretch, considering he pretty much screwed his party over with no time to get a decent replacement on the ticket. That's not a good strategy for someone who might pursue a primary fight... although an Independent run could still fly, if Bayh hadn't already said he's out for 2012. This retirement's so weird that I'm inclined to take him at his word -- even he's sick of Washington.

And when people who are establishment get sick of the place... well, I wouldn't start investing pitchfork futures... yet.

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