I was late talking my son to Takoma Park elementary school and was phoned by my foreign editor who said that in light of what had happened all editorial plans for the day were scrapped. Being the veteran I was I muttered, “Of course,” while wondering what the blazes he was on about. He asked me what I had heard and I said,”Bear with me, things are very fluid here and I need to make some more calls.”
The car radio in my old Fiat Spyder wasn’t working and I drove like the wind back to my home and switched on CNN in time to see the second plane strike the twin towers. I thought to myself, “Al Qaeda.” And then thought, “Life is going to be very different from now on.”
I then worked like fury. Business AM got a European press award for coverage that day. Much later in the day I toured the outside of the still-smoking Pentagon, had a drink on the way home in one of the few bars open in an eerily deserted DC and drafted in my mind my column for the Washington Times Corp. It was a plea not to throw out civil liberties in the fight against terrorism. Next day I tried to explain to my son about the bad people….
Not so sure Michael Gerson is right when he says in a Washington Post column today that “it is the agenda that undermined the idiom” and blames President Obama’s politics for the loss of his communication power. On the other side of the aisle, partisan divisions over the role of government have been sharpened in the UK by the Coalition’s cost-cutting agenda but Prime Minister Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg are communicating far more effectively than Obama now and seem to be taking more people along with them.
Maybe we over-estimated Obama when we heard him out on the presidential campaign trail, mistaking rhetorical flash and dash for overall communication understanding and ability. Maybe we were overcome by the contrast between an eloquent Obama and a stumbling Bush — here was a man who could speak in grammatical, flowing sentences. Now Obama seems flat, professorial and ponderous.
And maybe Obama is losing confidence in speaking to the nation as a whole and is resorting to what most politicians do when under pressure — namely, speak just to their base, hence the narrow feel of his rhetoric now, the exclusivity as opposed to the inclusivity that was emphasized during the campaign. Gerson is surely right when he describes the President’s recent forays beyond Washington DC. “In Milwaukee, Obama was the feisty street fighter with a union card. But, without humor, his jabs seemed sour and mocking. In Cleveland, Obama personalized the economic argument by repeatedly attacking House Minority Leader John Boehner — as though Americans have any idea who this tanned and sinister figure might be.”
It isn’t just the President’s own performances that are off the mark. The communication strategy of he White House has been flawed from the start. Why not more about the economy from the moment Obama set foot in the White House, after all the polls consistently highlighted the economy and unemployment as the number one anxiety? Only now is Obama talking more about the economy and focusing on it. Neither of his two Oval Office addresses were on the economy. Has anyone over at the White House heard of FDR’s “fireside chats”?