Let's call the president that has a sense of humor beyond calling people idiot nicknames "Spock-like" one more time. pic.twitter.com/JCbHMc6K2n
— Bob Schooley (@Rschooley) May 1, 2016
This showed up online well in advance of last night’s WHCD, as part of Politico‘s “Media Issue,” as a story about how the President failed to uphold the Media Village Idiots’ prescriptions:
President Barack Obama insists he does not obsess about “the narrative,” the everyday media play-by-play of political Washington. He urges his team to tune out “the noise,” “the echo chamber,” the Beltway obsession with who’s up and who’s down. But in the fall of 2014, he got sick of the narrative of gloom hovering over his White House. Unemployment was dropping and troops were coming home, yet only one in four Americans thought the nation was on the right track—and Democrats worried about the midterm elections were sprinting away from him. He wanted to break through the noise… [I]in a speech at Northwestern University, he tried to reshape his narrative. If the presidential bully pulpit couldn’t drown out the echo chamber, he figured nothing could.
The facts were that America had put more people back to work than the rest of the world’s advanced economies combined. High school graduation rates were at an all-time high, while oil imports, the deficit, and the uninsured rate had plunged. The professor-turned-president was even more insistent than usual that he was merely relying on “logic and reason and facts and data,” challenging his critics to do the same. “Those are the facts. It’s not conjecture. It’s not opinion. It’s not partisan rhetoric. I laid out facts.”
The Northwestern speech did reshape the narrative, but not in the way Obama intended. The only line that made news came near the end of his 54-minute address, an observation that while he wouldn’t be on the ballot in the fall midterms, “these policies are on the ballot—every single one of them.” When Obama boarded Air Force One after his speech, his speechwriter, Cody Keenan, told him the Internet had already flagged that line as an idiotic political gaffe… Obama’s words couldn’t change the narrative of his unpopularity; they just gave Republicans a new opening to exploit it. They quickly became a staple of campaign ads and stump speeches tying Democrats ball-and-chain to their leader. “Republicans couldn’t have written a better script,” declared The Fix, the Washington Post’s column for political junkies. Even Axelrod called it “a mistake” on Meet the Press. The substance of the speech was ignored, and Keenan still blames himself for letting one off-message phrase eclipse a story of revival, a prelude to the second Republican midterm landslide of the Obama era. “I’m still pissed off about that,” Keenan told me. “Everything he said was true and important, and that one line got turned against him.”
Obama was hailed as a new Great Communicator during his yes-we-can 2008 campaign, but he’s often had a real failure to communicate in office. The narrative began spinning out of his control in the turbulent opening days of his presidency, and he’s never totally recaptured it. His tenure has often felt like an endless series of media frenzies over messaging snafus—from the fizzled “Recovery Summer” to “you didn’t build that” to the Benghazi furor, which is mostly a furor about talking points…