STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Is Obama Over?
By Staff News & Analysis - August 18, 2010

Critics say Obama's message becoming 'incoherent' … President Obama (left) is under fire for what some are calling mixed messages on plans to build an Islamic center near ground zero. … Some observers say Obama's comments show messaging problems for president … "The danger here is an incoherent presidency," said David Morey, vice chairman of the Core Strategy Group, who provided communications advice to Obama's 2008 campaign. "Simpler is better, and rising above these issues and leading by controlling the dialogue is what the presidency is all about. So I think that's the job they have to do more effectively as they have in the past [in the campaign]." … "There is no question they are having messaging problems at the White House," Morey said. "They've lost control of the dialogue, and they've gotten pulled down by the extremes on the left and right. They've just not had a coherent set of themes." – CNN

Dominant Social Theme: President Barack Obama better focus!

Free-Market Analysis: It took Bill Clinton nearly eight years to kill the credibility of his presidency. It took George Bush about five years. It has taken Barack Obama about two. Anybody see a pattern? We do. The Internet itself, like a vast echo chamber, reminds people endlessly (over time) of the rhetorical and policy failures of US presidents. These failures are not necessarily personal peccadilloes either. What the Internet has done, in our view, has been to lift the veil on the irrationality of the system and of regulatory democracy generally. The cycle moves faster and faster as well.

During the Clinton years, the mainstream media was still able to provide a level of "cover" for the presidency. Newsweek magazine (which just changed hands for the proverbial dollar) sat on the story about Clinton's philandering for weeks if not months, while the President lied under oath and otherwise prevaricated. The DrudgeReport.com published the story and made its reputation as a result. That was really the beginning of the end not just for Newsweek but for the mainstream press' credibility generally.

George Bush, as we have pointed out before, did even less well than Clinton. We have asked many people about the turning point of the Bush presidency and startlingly they usually mention the very scenario that we ourselves have identified – the evening he shakily appeared on TV, not far into his second term, to announce (in New Orleans) that he was carving out US$200 billion from a non-existent federal cash surplus to send to Hurricane Katrina victims.

Of course no such amount of money was ever-forthcoming. The main result of that terrible speech was to kill Bush's presidency, however. People who had been waiting for the "real" George Bush to emerge from the political realist who had over-spent and over-regulated in his first term suddenly realized that Bush's compassionate conservatism was actually a coded phrase for "big-spending social conservative." In other words, Bush actually represented most of what America DIDN'T want – a moral and social busybody who was also a Leviathan-sized, statist spendthrift.

The media, as we have written, didn't get the point at all. They missed the nation-wide epiphany. Bush dissolved his base of support in one night – more effectively than he had with all his warmongering and ignorance about governance – but the mainstream media nattered on nonetheless. It was a perennial source of amazement for an additional three years that Bush's ratings continually drifted downwards no matter what he did. The back of his head as he gazed into the night sky out an airplane window – supposedly at New Orleans so far below – was a further indelible, photographic image that many of his supporters carried away in their collective mind's eye. It didn't help that the photograph was amply available on the Internet.

And now comes Barack Obama. What many remember about Obama we venture to guess (in hindsight anyway) were some of the incredibly fatuous backdrops he utilized during his campaign in 2008, the Romanesque stages designed to provide him with a sense of history – and destiny. In those heady days Time magazine repeatedly compared him to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and this was a theme that carried forth even into his presidency. The elite that from our perspective had organized his presidency and made it possible also arranged for him to win the Nobel Peace Prize, even though it was pointed out at the time that he had done nothing yet to deserve it.

But everything is speeded up during the Internet news cycle. And images on the 'Net are more important than ever. Just as Bush was done in, in our opinion, by a photograph of a fly-over, so Obama's turn came when he was photographed with twin teleprompters flanking him while he addressed a classroom full of grade-school students from a podium. There is nothing to be done about the image now. It exists, in all its ridiculousness to tell the world that this man, this President, is afraid to address even children without the formal paraphernalia of a national address.

Of course there are other reasons that the Obama presidency has faded so quickly. It is not just the images but also, as we have indicated, the rhetoric and policies that have failed him. Reading about a president's policies in the gray pages of the New York Times is a great deal different than reading incisive and damning opinion pieces about them on the Internet. One form of presentation (the Times) has a kind of authority that the Internet itself tends to drain away. People, reading about, say, the Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson might have disagreed with them, but they would never have made the mistake of believing that they were simple to construct or carry forth.

But on the Internet everything is boiled down to bare essentials. Obama and his enablers may provide elegant textual elements that are then translated into coherent and intricate articles. But the feedbacks beneath will be both blunt and colorful, draining away the meaningful ambiguities of the statements and denying them any semblance of nuance. This is not a bad thing of course, not from our point of view. But it is the reason, we think, that credibility tends to break down even faster these days. People don't have to struggle to understand what is being said even at the highest levels of policy making. The Internet's rush of repetition and clarification makes it quite comprehensible.

After Thoughts

It does not help of course, that Obama has no coherence because his policies have no prospect of success. His economics are Keynesian, his global outlook is one of (failed) empire and his approach to governance emphasizes the kind of regulatory democracy that Americans increasingly find despicable. In another era perhaps Obama would be able to disguise the real polity of his regime, but in the Internet era there is no place to hide. This is the real problem in our view. It is not that Obama is incoherent but thanks in large part to the truth-telling of the Internet, the electorate understands him all-too-well.

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