February 25, 2009

What Obama said

President Obama appeared to nod in the centrist direction last night. But was it really a greeting as he moved towards the center or was it merely the type of nod you give while you're looking in the rear view mirror?

Call me a skeptic. Over at the National Review the take is that President Obama said many of the right things but that they are cynical about the reality of it. I'm very cynical about the reality of it.

He's gone back to the $250,000+ tax increase. It seems he's using the budget deficit as a rationale for massive tax increases on those who employ the country - business and "the rich". It's the same idea as a minimum wage increase - anything that drives the cost of production up, drives producers out. If producers leave or shut down, where does that leave laborers?

He's willing to bail out the auto industry which means it ill never undergo the correction that it needs to undergo - a managed bankruptcy is the only way to solve those issues.

He wants to continue to help the banking industry but nary a mention of the underlying social engineering issues of the Community Reinvestment Act. It's easy to rail against corporate greed but stiffer regulation is not the answer. Stiffer regulation makes it harder to do business and what does that do? Again - drives business out. What's that do besides cost more jobs? Well in the case of banking it has a multiplier effect because not only are they affected, but so is anyone needing credit to operate. Currently that seems to be a huge percentage of the American economy.

He talks a good game about the dangerous future of health care costs. But what he's after is universal health care. If other things haven't changed since the campaign, if his fundamental beliefs haven't changed, why would his goals have changed? The answer is they haven't. What's changed is the reality of how he has to go about achieving them. He's got to be sneakier, more clandestine. Calling on the government to be more efficient isn't going to lose you any support. But it might take people's eye off the ball enough to laden the system with more obligations.

In the end words are just words. They can inspire, they can mesmerize, they can confuse and obfuscate. President Obama has spoken, yet again. His popularity and his support will likely bounce. But over time, the reality of what he does versus what he says will start to become more apparent. This will inevitably hurt his popularity among conservatives who may still be willing to support the office if not the man, and also among some independents. His popularity a year from now will not be what it is today.

And more importantly for America, regardless of what Obama says, what matters is whether the economy is humming again down the road. If it is, he will be seen as an economic savior but if it isn't he will likely shoulder the blame.

This is where the President's speech veers into the political. It's no coincidence that the speech was made prior to the American Tea Party scheduled for February 28th. President Obama has had some fits and starts in his appointments. His popularity has declined, albeit modestly. What did work for the President though, was his speech to push through the stimulus package. Support for the package rose after his speech, regardless of where the support actually was percentage-wise, all pollsters saw an increase in the support for the package after Obama's speech.

Speeches work for President Obama. He has a sense of understanding of the importance of communication. He saw how it worked for Presidents Reagan and Clinton and how neither President Bush rose to the level of mediocrity in their frequency or effectiveness of utilizing the bully pulpit or the medium of television in general to further their appeal. Reagan was wildly popular, Clinton was popular and the Bushes were to varying degrees, abysmally unpopular, particularly towards the end of their terms. President Obama, early in his term, has made good use of his effective speaking ability to rally support around his efforts.

But there's a risk to this. The President cannot go on television every week to garner support for every bill he wants to get passed. At some point people are going to start to tune out; "Not another President Obama speech." He risks overplaying his hand if he continues to be too available, too viewed. He's probably aware of that, or will become aware of it if he starts to see that effect creeping in. But for now the strategy is working for him and his approval ratings can absorb a point or two hit if he overexposes himself right now.

He'll have to temper his accessibility eventually. We can expect to see the President with less frequency in the future. Not to the levels of Bush 43 hiding behind the Oval Office curtain, but perhaps to more of a Reagan or Clinton level of accessibility.

Luckily right now he's got a tepid Republican response from Bobby Jindal to compete against and it only makes him look better. But Republicans, including Jindal, will find their oratory legs soon enough. President Obama cannot indefinitely afford to be boring, uninspiring, overexposed or long-winded. This is no longer the campaign trail, although he continues to operate as if it is. And for Republicans this could very well turn into their greatest opportunity yet.

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