The White House is just lousy at messaging across the board, as I and others have noted many times.
Obama also seems to have bad luck. He endorsed offshore drilling shortly before the biggest offshore oil disaster in history. He embraced new nuclear power plants in a speech last February, and now we are seeing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl unfold.
But in many respects people make their own bad luck from a messaging perspective when they don’t have a coherent guiding philosophy that they explain to people again and again, a narrative, as it is more popularly called (see Is progressive messaging a “massive botch”? Part 2: Drew Westen on how “The White House has squandered the greatest opportunity to change both the country and the political landscape since Ronald Reagan”).
Ironically, Obama has so wanted to be a Reagan, but whatever one thinks of Reagan — and certainly he helped destroy US leadership in clean energy, among other things — he had a story and he stuck to it, so much so that he is revered for things that he never even did. How else could a multiple tax-raiser be revered by those who make no new taxes a litmus test?
There was no philosophical or political reason for Obama to embrace offshore drilling, especially when he did, since he got nothing in return for it. Same for nuclear power.
What inspires this latest post is Obama’s refusal to make the clear case that Republican budget cuts would be devastating to the health and well-being of this country. A number of people have complained to me just how bad last week’s press conference was. Let me pull out just the question and answer on the budget:
Q … And my question on the budget is — there’s been some criticism from members of your own party about your leadership on negotiations on spending. And I’m wondering, given that, if you can talk about where you stand on a three-week CR, on longer-term priorities, and what you would and would not accept on cuts.
THE PRESIDENT: … Now, with respect to the budget, I think it’s important to understand that right now the discussion is about last year’s business. We’re talking about how to fund the remainder of this fiscal year. This is an appropriations task. And we have been in very close contact with all members of Congress — both parties. I’ve had conversations with Mr. McConnell, I’ve had conversations with Mr. Boehner, I’ve had conversations with Nancy Pelosi, and I’ve had conversations with Harry Reid about how they should approach this budget problem.
Here’s what we know: The Republicans in the House passed a budget that has been now rejected in the Senate. They are not going to get 100 percent of what they want. The Democrats have put forward spending cuts, many of them pretty painful, that give Republicans already half of what they were seeking, because they’re the right thing to do. Many of those cuts are ones that were already embodied in the budget that I proposed for 2012. Now, that’s been rejected as well.
So here’s what we know — that both sides are going to have to sit down and compromise on prudent cuts somewhere between what the Republicans were seeking that’s now been rejected and what the Democrats had agreed to that has also been rejected. It shouldn’t be that complicated. And so what I’ve done is, every day I talk to my team, I give them instructions in terms of how they can participate in the negotiations, indicate what’s acceptable, indicate what’s not acceptable. And our expectation is, is that we should be able to get this completed.
Now, because I think neither Democrats or Republicans were in the mood to compromise until their 100-percent maximal position was voted down in the Senate, we’ve probably lost some time. And we may not be able to fully resolve this and meet next week’s deadline for the continuing resolution, which means that there may be potentially one more short-term extension.
Have you fallen asleep yet?
From a rhetorical perspective, he repeated the word “conversations” four times in one breath, so that’s presumably what he wanted listeners to come away with. Obama is the converser in chief.
I suppose that his advisors have poll-tested this gobbledygook whereby he triangulates himself between the Democrats and Republicans while sort of staying above the fray, which is to say, by not doing anything but conversing.
And so a great nation crumbles.
Somewhere around this point in the answer is where the PBS Newshour got so bored it cut off the clip, so when I was watching it I thought it was even worse than it actually is. I thought Obama hadn’t defended anything in the budget. But it turns out he did.
But let me just make some broad points about this. Number one, we can’t keep on running the government based on two-week extensions. That’s irresponsible. We’ve got a war in Afghanistan going on. We’ve got a wide range of issues facing the country on a day-to-day basis. And the notion that we can’t get resolved last year’s budget in a sensible way with serious but prudent spending cuts I think defies common sense. So we should be able to get it done.
Point number two. There are going to be certain things that House Republicans want that I will not accept. And the reason I won’t accept them is not because I don’t think we’ve got to cut the budget; we do. And we’ve already put forward significant cuts in the discretionary budget, some of which have not made members of my own party happy.
But the notion that we would cut, for example, Pell Grants, when we know the single most important thing to our success as a nation long term is how well-educated our kids are, and the proposal that was coming out of the House would cut this year about $800 out of Pell Grants for 8 million kids, and if were extended into next year would cut in half the Pell Grants that they’re receiving — that makes no sense. The notion that we would decide that, under the Republican budget proposal, to eliminate 200,000 Head Start slots that also would mean the layoffs of 55,000 teachers — that doesn’t make sense.
Pell Grants and Head Start. That’s it. Good ‘ole education. Can’t go wrong with defending the education of our children. How about defending clean air and clean water for our children, too?
The principle that I’ve tried to put forward since the State of the Union is we’ve got to live within our means, we’ve got to get serious about managing our budget, but we can’t stop investing in our people. We can’t stop investing in research and development. We can’t stop investing in infrastructure — those things that are going to make us competitive over the long term and will help us win the future.
And so I’ve communicated directly to Speaker Boehner as well as to Republican Leader McConnell that we want to work with them to get to a sustainable discretionary budget. And we think it is important for us to stop funding programs that don’t work. But we’re going to make sure that we hold the line when it comes to some critical programs that are either going to help us out-educate, out-innovate, or out-build other countries.
Last point I’ll make on the budget. The Republican budget that passed out of the House included a whole range of what are called riders. These aren’t really budget items. These are political statements. And I want — I’ve said, again, directly to Speaker Boehner that we’re happy to discuss any of these riders, but my general view is, let’s not try to sneak political agendas into a budget debate. If Republicans are interested in social issues that they want to promote, they should put a bill on the floor of the House and promote it, have an up or down vote, send it over to the Senate. But don’t try to use the budget as a way to promote a political or ideological agenda.
I think that’s the American people’s view as well. I think one of the messages that the American people have clearly sent is get serious about living within our means and managing our budget in a responsible way, and stop with the political bickering. And if we have that view in mind, then I think that not only can we get this short-term issue resolved, but I think we can actually solve the long-term budget issues as well.
Live within our means? How about not die within our means? Peter DeFazio says “people will die” from GOP cuts to NOAA, disaster response programs.
This lame messaging — where Obama tries to be GOP-lite on the budget — isn’t even working, as yesterday’s Pew Research poll results show: “Republicans Are Losing Ground on the Deficit, But Obama’s Not Gaining.” Presumably Obama is so obsessed with the deficit because his advisors think it will help with independents. Too bad for Obama that more independents understand the basic economics — spending cuts cost jobs:
Interestingly, Obama’s spokesman recently got some cajones:
The White House is bashing a proposed Senate GOP amendment to small business legislation that would nullify the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gases.
“This amendment rolls back the Clean Air Act and harms Americans’ health by taking away our ability to decrease air pollution,” Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday night.
“Instead of holding big polluters accountable, this amendment overrules public health experts and scientists. Finally, at a time when America’s families are struggling with the cost of gasoline, the amendment would undercut fuel efficiency standards that will save Americans money at the pump while also decreasing our reliance on foreign oil.”
The White House decision to weigh in directly on the amendment signifies the stakes of the escalating Republican-led effort to crush a major part of the Obama administration’s environmental agenda.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is seeking to attach Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) bill that would kill EPA climate rules to pending legislation that would reauthorize key small business programs.
The same block-EPA bill cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday afternoon.
Memo to White House: Could you have that blunt message delivered by Obama himself, not a spokesman — during prime-time?