So I went to the White House today…


I was invited to a progressive media get together at the White House today. It’s freezing in DC, nice and windy, and the snow is still everywhere, except now it’s turning black and nasty. There were guys with forced water machines trying to blow the remnants of snow off the White House driveway.

Nine of us were invited, this time, including Yglesias, Atrios, Oliver Willis, Thom Hartmann, Chris Hayes, Jonathan Singer, Tim Fernholz, and Erin Kotecki Vest. These get togethers started a few months ago, and basically they invite different members of the progressive media each time. While waiting in the driveway, right next to where the nightly TV news do their White House shots, one of my fellow invitees who I’ve known for a long time said to me, “hey, you’re here.” I said, yeah, why? Well, he said to me, we were trying to figure out who wouldn’t be invited and we all said “Aravosis!” Um, I’ll take that as a compliment, I asked? Yes.


Instead of the Roosevelt Room, where we were supposed to have our meeting – which would have been neat, as it’s right across from the Oval Office, and steeped in history – we were shepherded into a small conference room in the basement that reminded me of the dining room of a nuclear submarine I got to pilot once, for a grand total of five minutes, about 180 feet under the Altantic when I was a Hill staffer (those photos will likely never see the light of day). This room was quite small, nautically themed, with paneled walls, and one of those clock/barometer round things, and, of course, a picture of a sub on the wall!

Our meeting was with Jared Bernstein, Chief Economist and Economic Policy Adviser to VP Biden. Berstein started with some background on the stimulus, and the usual data about how many jobs it’s created etc. Honestly, it’s not worth giving you the details – we’ve done numerous posts on the jobs saved and created by the stimulus, including Joe’s post this morning, and we’ll have a few more tonight.

I guess what struck me as most interesting about the meeting were two things. First, when Bernstein noted that, in trying to solve the country’s economic problems, the administration faces “budget constraints and political constraints.” By that, I took Bernstein to mean that the stimulus could only be so large last time, and we can only spend so much more money this time, because we’re facing a huge deficit, so there’s not much money to spend, and because the Hill and public opinion won’t let us spend more.

That struck me as GOP talking points winning the day, and I said so (Professor Kyle wrote about this very notion the other day on the blog). The only reason we’re facing a budget constraint is because we gave in on the political constraint. We permitted Republicans to spin the first stimulus as an abysmal failure, when in fact it created or saved up to 2m jobs. Since Democrats didn’t adequately defend the stimulus, and didn’t sufficiently paint the deficit as the Republicans’ doing, we now are not “politically” permitted to have a larger stimulus because the fiscal constraint has become more important than economic recovery.

And whose fault is that?

Apparently ours.

Bernstein said that the progressive blogs (perhaps he said progressive media in general) haven’t done enough over the past year to tell the positive side of the stimulus.

Hmm… Didn’t sound quite right to me, so I checked our archives. On AMERICAblog, we’ve written at least 44 posts about the stimulus over the past year. That’s almost one a week. We also wrote 186 posts that mention the stimulus. But the larger issue is that the blogs have not been recalcitrant in promoting the President’s agenda. We’re the biggest rah-rah team he’s got on the economy, other than the fact that most of us believe that the stimulus was too small. But I doubt any of us in that room question, or have ever questioned, the stimulus’ effectiveness. And we’ve made that view known publicly, repeatedly.

The problem with the stimulus messaging is, well, the stimulus messaging itself. The problem is the White House messaging operation. It kind of sucks. And while Joe and I were living in Democratic exile over the past year for being the Cassandra’s who saw all of this coming early on, nowadays it’s pretty much accepted around town that the WH has been losing the messaging war with the GOP on a lot of issues. The stimulus isn’t the problem, it’s the symptom. We had the same issue come up with health care reform, a wildly popular idea that somehow the White House just couldn’t sell.

I’m not going to write a graduate thesis here on marketing. But at times it feels as though the White House messaging folks – and I’m talking Axelrod’s shop – don’t think they even need try to sell what the President peddles. It’s as if they think they’re all so smart, and what they have to offer so obviously good for America, that the President’s agenda will magically sell itself to both the Hill and the American people.

It won’t.

Democrats suck at marketing while governing. And while Obama was (generally) great at it during the campaign, so was Jimmy Carter.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | 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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