Obama’s messaging vs. substance

From E.J. Dionne:

[President Obama] and his party are often defensive when it comes to saying what they really believe: that government, well-executed, is a positive good; that too much economic inequality is both dysfunctional and unjust; that capitalism has never worked without regulation and a strong dose of social insurance. They no longer dare talk about public enterprise, a phrase my friend Chris Matthews reminded me of recently, visible in our great state universities, our best public schools, our road and transit systems, and in the research and development that government finances in areas where there is no immediate profit to be made.

The Obama press office, I know, can send me speeches in which he has made some of these points. But the president’s efforts to lay down a consistent rationale, argument and philosophy have been sporadic. He has created a vacuum, filled by the wild charges of Glenn Beck, the disappointment of progressives who emphasize what he hasn’t done and the tired “government is always the problem” rhetoric of his mainstream conservative opponents. He has thus left himself and his Democratic allies with weak defenses against a tide of economic melancholy.

I think Dionne is correct, but the lack of an overarching vision is affecting the specifics of the policy successes as well. Dionne cites the many accomplishments the Obama administration has already wracked up:

Seen from the inside, the administration is an astonishing success. Obama has kept his principal promises and can take credit for achievements that eluded his Democratic predecessors.

He pledged to have all combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this month and, as Obama will remind us on Tuesday, he’s accomplished just that. Congress enacted a comprehensive health-care bill and a sweeping reform of how the financial system is regulated. His rescue of the American auto industry worked, foiling predictions that he’d run GM and Chrysler as if they were arms of Chicago’s Democratic machine. There are many other legislative and administrative actions that, in normal circumstances, would loom larger if these were not such exceptional — and difficult — times.

A few are real successes, I would argue, like the auto bailout. And he did get the combat troops out of Iraq, as promised (at least that’s what it seems). The problem, for me at least, is that the top promises that mattered to me have been botched, so that I don’t really know what I’m getting out of this administration.

The stimulus. It wasn’t big enough, they knew it wasn’t big enough, they refused to fight for more, and now we’re talking about ten years of economic malaise. On health care reform, the President was missing in action for a year (yes, he gave a few speeches, that’s not seriously fighting for your goals). And yes, we finally passed something, even though it’s not what was promised. Am I going to significantly benefit from what was passed? Are you? No one knows. And finally, for me, there’s gay civil rights. On DADT, the President isn’t pushing for a full repeal, and DOMA and ENDA are totally MIA. I’d also add in climate change, among the top issues that matter to me.

On the major issues of the day, that I care about personally, it’s hard to point to much that’s an overwhelming success. Regardless of what the print press says, I think a lot of people feel like me. They can’t quite put their finger on how this administration has actually helped them. And that is a messaging problem, but it’s also one of substance.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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