Must-Read Drew Westen Op-Ed Spells Out Obama’s Catastrophic Failure of Messaging

The White House is just lousy at messaging across the board, as I and others have noted many times.

I am hoping my book on messaging and communications will find a publisher this year. It explains what Obama and other progressives have done wrong — and details what the winning strategies and tactics are.

For now, the single best piece dissecting Obama’s catastrophically bad messaging is by Drew Westen in today’s NY Times, “What Happened to Obama?” Westen is a psychology professor at Emory and author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.

Westen is the closest thing progressives have to Frank Luntz. I’ve long been a fan of Westen, and even more so since I was able to spend some time listening to and talking with him last year. Before excerpting his must-read diagnosis, Westen directs us to a masterful speech from a truly great President that shows how it is done — and how shockingly little things have changed:

Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

FDR, 1936. Ah, they don’t make Presidents like that any more.

Here’s the key parts of Westen’s piece:

The stories our leaders tell us matter, probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be; to the worldviews they hold and to the values they hold sacred. Our brains evolved to “expect” stories with a particular structure, with protagonists and villains, a hill to be climbed or a battle to be fought. Our species existed for more than 100,000 years before the earliest signs of literacy, and another 5,000 years would pass before the majority of humans would know how to read and write.

Stories were the primary way our ancestors transmitted knowledge and values. Today we seek movies, novels and “news stories” that put the events of the day in a form that our brains evolved to find compelling and memorable. Children crave bedtime stories; the holy books of the three great monotheistic religions are written in parables; and as research in cognitive science has shown, lawyers whose closing arguments tell a story win jury trials against their legal adversaries who just lay out “the facts of the case.”

When Barack Obama rose to the lectern on Inauguration Day, the nation was in tatters. Americans were scared and angry. The economy was spinning in reverse. Three-quarters of a million people lost their jobs that month. Many had lost their homes, and with them the only nest eggs they had. Even the usually impervious upper middle class had seen a decade of stagnant or declining investment, with the stock market dropping in value with no end in sight. Hope was as scarce as credit.

In that context, Americans needed their president to tell them a story that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety.

Westen proposes something like this:

“I know you’re scared and angry. Many of you have lost your jobs, your homes, your hope. This was a disaster, but it was not a natural disaster. It was made by Wall Street gamblers who speculated with your lives and futures. It was made by conservative extremists who told us that if we just eliminated regulations and rewarded greed and recklessness, it would all work out. But it didn’t work out. And it didn’t work out 80 years ago, when the same people sold our grandparents the same bill of goods, with the same results. But we learned something from our grandparents about how to fix it, and we will draw on their wisdom. We will restore business confidence the old-fashioned way: by putting money back in the pockets of working Americans by putting them back to work, and by restoring integrity to our financial markets and demanding it of those who want to run them. I can’t promise that we won’t make mistakes along the way. But I can promise you that they will be honest mistakes, and that your government has your back again.” A story isn’t a policy. But that simple narrative — and the policies that would naturally have flowed from it — would have inoculated against much of what was to come in the intervening two and a half years of failed government, idled factories and idled hands. That story would have made clear that the president understood that the American people had given Democrats the presidency and majorities in both houses of Congress to fix the mess the Republicans and Wall Street had made of the country, and that this would not be a power-sharing arrangement. It would have made clear that the problem wasn’t tax-and-spend liberalism or the deficit — a deficit that didn’t exist until George W. Bush gave nearly $2 trillion in tax breaks largely to the wealthiest Americans and squandered $1 trillion in two wars.

And perhaps most important, it would have offered a clear, compelling alternative to the dominant narrative of the right, that our problem is not due to spending on things like the pensions of firefighters, but to the fact that those who can afford to buy influence are rewriting the rules so they can cut themselves progressively larger slices of the American pie while paying less of their fair share for it.

But there was no story — and there has been none since.

I would add Obama should have explained how Bush’s presidency proved for all time that tax cuts for the wealthy don’t lower the deficit, they explode it, and they don’t create jobs, they kill them. The super-wealthy these days aren’t “job creators” as the GOP likes to claim. They are “wealth creators” — for themselves — and wealth preservers — for themselves.


Obama also needs to explain how the pollutocrats have funded and advanced the Tea Party for their own plunder-the-environment-free-from-oversight agenda, but that’s another post.

When Barack Obama stepped into the Oval Office, he stepped into a cycle of American history, best exemplified by F.D.R. and his distant cousin, Teddy. After a great technological revolution or a major economic transition, as when America changed from a nation of farmers to an urban industrial one, there is often a period of great concentration of wealth, and with it, a concentration of power in the wealthy. That’s what we saw in 1928, and that’s what we see today. At some point that power is exercised so injudiciously, and the lives of so many become so unbearable, that a period of reform ensues — and a charismatic reformer emerges to lead that renewal. In that sense, Teddy Roosevelt started the cycle of reform his cousin picked up 30 years later, as he began efforts to bust the trusts and regulate the railroads, exercise federal power over the banks and the nation’s food supply, and protect America’s land and wildlife, creating the modern environmental movement.

Those were the shoes — that was the historic role — that Americans elected Barack Obama to fill. The president is fond of referring to “the arc of history,” paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But with his deep-seated aversion to conflict and his profound failure to understand bully dynamics — in which conciliation is always the wrong course of action, because bullies perceive it as weakness and just punch harder the next time — he has broken that arc and has likely bent it backward for at least a generation.

I agree 100% that Obama has set back the progressive arc of history by a generation — and in the case of action on global warming, that lost generation will likely prove devastating for billions (see Australian Climate Commission says act now or “the global climate may be so irreversibly altered we will struggle to maintain our present way of life”).

The truly decisive move that broke the arc of history was his handling of the stimulus. The public was desperate for a leader who would speak with confidence, and they were ready to follow wherever the president led. Yet instead of indicting the economic policies and principles that had just eliminated eight million jobs, in the most damaging of the tic-like gestures of compromise that have become the hallmark of his presidency — and against the advice of multiple Nobel-Prize-winning economists — he backed away from his advisers who proposed a big stimulus, and then diluted it with tax cuts that had already been shown to be inert. The result, as predicted in advance, was a half-stimulus that half-stimulated the economy. That, in turn, led the White House to feel rightly unappreciated for having saved the country from another Great Depression but in the unenviable position of having to argue a counterfactual — that something terrible might have happened had it not half-acted.

To the average American, who was still staring into the abyss, the half-stimulus did nothing but prove that Ronald Reagan was right, that government is the problem. In fact, the average American had no idea what Democrats were trying to accomplish by deficit spending because no one bothered to explain it to them with the repetition and evocative imagery that our brains require to make an idea, particularly a paradoxical one, “stick.” Nor did anyone explain what health care reform was supposed to accomplish (other than the unbelievable and even more uninspiring claim that it would “bend the cost curve”), or why “credit card reform” had led to an increase in the interest rates they were already struggling to pay. Nor did anyone explain why saving the banks was such a priority, when saving the homes the banks were foreclosing didn’t seem to be. All Americans knew, and all they know today, is that they’re still unemployed, they’re still worried about how they’re going to pay their bills at the end of the month and their kids still can’t get a job. And now the Republicans are chipping away at unemployment insurance, and the president is making his usual impotent verbal exhortations after bargaining it away.

What makes the “deficit debate” we just experienced seem so surreal is how divorced the conversation in Washington has been from conversations around the kitchen table everywhere else in America. Although I am a scientist by training, over the last several years, as a messaging consultant to nonprofit groups and Democratic leaders, I have studied the way voters think and feel, talking to them in plain language. At this point, I have interacted in person or virtually with more than 50,000 Americans on a range of issues, from taxes and deficits to abortion and immigration.

The average voter is far more worried about jobs than about the deficit, which few were talking about while Bush and the Republican Congress were running it up. The conventional wisdom is that Americans hate government, and if you ask the question in the abstract, people will certainly give you an earful about what government does wrong. But if you give them the choice between cutting the deficit and putting Americans back to work, it isn’t even close. But it’s not just jobs. Americans don’t share the priorities of either party on taxes, budgets or any of the things Congress and the president have just agreed to slash — or failed to slash, like subsidies to oil companies. When it comes to tax cuts for the wealthy, Americans are united across the political spectrum, supporting a message that says, “In times like these, millionaires ought to be giving to charity, not getting it.”

When pitted against a tough budget-cutting message straight from the mouth of its strongest advocates, swing voters vastly preferred a message that began, “The best way to reduce the deficit is to put Americans back to work.” This statement is far more consistent with what many economists are saying publicly — and what investors apparently believe, as evident in the nosedive the stock market took after the president and Congress “saved” the economy.

The debt debate was more than another lost opportunity. Obama actually bought into and repeated the GOP frame that deficits trump all other issues, like jobs and investment.

Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue. The president tells us he prefers a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction, one that weds “revenue enhancements” (a weak way of describing popular taxes on the rich and big corporations that are evading them) with “entitlement cuts” (an equally poor choice of words that implies that people who’ve worked their whole lives are looking for handouts). But the law he just signed includes only the cuts. This pattern of presenting inconsistent positions with no apparent recognition of their incoherence is another hallmark of this president’s storytelling. He announces in a speech on energy and climate change that we need to expand offshore oil drilling and coal production — two methods of obtaining fuels that contribute to the extreme weather Americans are now seeing.


… he ran for president on two contradictory platforms: as a reformer who would clean up the system, and as a unity candidate who would transcend the lines of red and blue. He has pursued the one with which he is most comfortable given the constraints of his character, consistently choosing the message of bipartisanship over the message of confrontation.But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks.

I’ll end with Westen’s remarks on FDR — and that brilliant speech:

In similar circumstances, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Americans a promise to use the power of his office to make their lives better and to keep trying until he got it right. Beginning in his first inaugural address, and in the fireside chats that followed, he explained how the crash had happened, and he minced no words about those who had caused it. He promised to do something no president had done before: to use the resources of the United States to put Americans directly to work, building the infrastructure we still rely on today. He swore to keep the people who had caused the crisis out of the halls of power, and he made good on that promise. In a 1936 speech at Madison Square Garden, he thundered, “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

Hear! Hear!

Below are old comments from the earlier Facebook commenting system:

I wish these guys could coach Obama on speaking. I voted for him, and I’m totally at odds with the GOP, but I am hugely disappointed and frustrated with the President.

9 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 2:51pm

Eleanor Horres · Winthrop University

This was a negotiation with the devil. I wish he had been stronger, too, but there would have been NO CHANCE in the beginning for a deal if he barbecued the Reps. I wish he had done a post-deal skewering for sure.

Like · Reply · August 7 at 5:48pm

Eleanor Horres · Winthrop University

I think this has given him some fodder for the 2012 race, though. He just can’t afford to compromise then.

Like · Reply · August 7 at 5:55pm

Jan Merritt · Top Commenter · Sullivans Island

or now 🙂 Enough already.

1 · Like · Reply · August 7 at 6:02pm

John Earl · Tuscaloosa, Alabama

If FDR had the New Deal then Obama has given us the Raw Deal.

7 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 1:16pm

B Clarke (signed in using Hotmail)

I call this “message-ism”. It’s the overly simplistic belief that changing messaging will make a significant difference. But this political landscape that has serious and deep structural problems…that can’t be willed away with persuasion, speeches, and such.


I’ve worked on campaigns, I have worked as a communications consultant, by the way. It’s part of the reason I don’t want to do this work any more.

People are cognitively dug in. There is a cynicism about government that Westen’s magic phrases “government will have your back again” has no chance of undoing.

And finally, let’s put this to rest: FDR had *huge* majorities of his own party in Congress. Made it very easy for him. LBJ had the same. Obama has nothing approaching that. Slow grinding work on bringing new voters in and demographics are what is mostly going to deliver for us.

6 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 2:48pm

Jim Balter · Top Commenter · Santa Barbara, California

The most intelligent comment here.

Like · Reply · August 9 at 1:13am

Tim Newman

I wish I didn’t agree with this searing analysis of President Obama’s failings — but do. Completely.

6 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 2:09pm

David Hale

Tim, this piece in its entirety ran in today’s op-ed section on the Times… check it out.

Like · Reply · August 7 at 3:46pm

Bart Laws · Top Commenter · Assistant Professor at Brown University

It’s an open question, I’m afraid, whether Obama is actually lousy at political strategy and “messaging.” (Abhorent neologism, that.) Or if instead he really wanted the outcomes he has brought upon us. Many of us lean toward the latter — he doesn’t say what we want him to say because he doesn’t actually believe it; he doesn’t do what we want him to do because he actually wants to demolish the Democratic legacy of the past 80 years.

That makes more sense given that he does not appear to be an incompetent idiot.

5 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 1:55pm

Jonathan Koomey · Top Commenter · Stanford

I have found that for most folks (except for the current crop of right wingers), fecklessness is a more likely explanation for their actions than maliciousness. And I find it hard to believe that President Obama actively wants to undermine the Democratic legacy of the past 80 years. Why then would he fight for health care? Why would he raise vehicle mileage standards? Why would his EPA fight for new regulations on air emissions from power plants? The administration may not be doing things exactly the way we might like, but I do give them credit for trying. I wish they were more ruthless in fighting the reactionaries, but that’s different from thinking that the president is actively trying to undermine progressive priorities

1 · Like · Reply · August 7 at 2:42pm

Ernest Szeto

Even as the president of the Harvard Law Review, he was not the “leftist” people expected him to be. “Mediator”, “conciliator” better describes his temperament. He is cautious and tends towards incrementalist approach in a complex situation. His solutions tend to be somewhere in the middle, a synthesis of elements from both sides given what is politically possible.


But I wonder whether such a temperament serves him well in negotiations, when the other side is playing a different game, when more than halfway solutions are needed, when one truly needs to “go for broke” in order to succeed.

2 · Like · Reply · August 7 at 3:33pm

Jonathan Koomey · Top Commenter · Stanford

Your concern is a legitimate one. I wonder, too!

Like · Reply · August 7 at 4:09pm

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Thomas C. Gibbons · Eastern Illinois University

I understand criticism of Obama’s communication, but not the venom. It is as though he is the only one making mistakes. In fact, he has never had more than a razor thin and unreliable majority in the senate — never approaching the 60–40 majority that it seemed on paper — because so many Democrats, in addition to all of the Republicans, never supported so many of his priorities. He never got cap and trade for exactly that reason. He had to limit the stimulus and include the ineffective tax breaks for exactly that reason — not because he wanted limits and breaks himself as this post suggests. His communication problems are shared by the entire Democratic Party mainly because of fear of being called liberal. They think that anything that rallies the left would offend the “middle” which they innocently regard as a wise and hostile jury. So let us understand that it is not just Obama. The TPers and the Foxies have long since gone off the deep end in the unrelenting venom with which they try to inject the president. But let us be careful of our own fangs. Constructive criticism is one thing, but don’t poison your friends.

3 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 4:38am

Aurèle Binette · Works at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico

Maybe he just sold out to special interests, from day one, that is the story he did not tell and obviously could not tell! Now he is collecting funds to get re-elected. The simplest explanation is usually the most plausible.

3 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 7:53pm

Paul Magnus · Top Commenter

maybe the Mafia got to him and his family….

Like · Reply · August 7 at 11:51pm

Richard Pauli

This is such an important message. Thanks Joe for the posting and your commentary.

We should be very careful about using the word ‘hope’ — because hope can work with deluded, magical thinking. We can use it to ignore real problems — i.e. we can do business-as-usual while we fervently hope for a technical solution.

Hope is a very common emotion — everyone can nurture hope — but it may get in the way of effecting change. Or worse, it can get in the way of learning the true extent of the problem.…See More

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 3:24pm

  • Prokaryotes — · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

I 100% agree but we need a Paradigmen Shift and people expect miracles. What is not clear is the strategy, but we are on the road of change and the optimism drives us.

And when talking about optimism we need real dedications, dedications to cut old habits. Clean tech is our medicine in the fight against climate disruption.

2 · Like · Reply · August 7 at 5:23pm

tn_mcdnld (signed in using Yahoo)

Wow. I hope both President Obama and Congressional Democrats read this, as it sums up precisely the complaint I’ve had about their performance ever since the election.

They had a country roaring to support them after 8 miserable Bush years, voters they had educated during a campaign about the problems they intended to fix. One disappointment after another. Now the only hope Obama has is that the alternative might be too horrifying to comtemplate.

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 1:48pm

Tom Parrett · Creative Director at The Magazine Works

The fundamental problems with Obama, I believe — the Obama Westen and Romm describe so accurately — are two. First, he’s an academic and legal scholar, both of which tend to seek consensus, compromise, confluence of opinion, community harmony, cohesion… above all else, and at any cost. A conflict that’s resolved, he seems to think, is automatically good and probably a higher synthesis. When in fact resolution, like most things, occurs on a scale from good to bad, healthy to harmful, progressive to regressive. The resolution he just reached on the US debt and budget — the achievement he’s now selling as “a good first step” — was a bad compromise, and the next agreement is almost guaranteed to be worse. Why? Simply look at who benefits: the wealthy, corporations, banks and their lobbyists and political representatives (chi…See More

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 12:37am

Ted Gleichman · Portland, Oregon

Westen’s excellent attack on this Obama weakness in today’s NYT owes an unacknowledged debt to George Lakoff, whose work on “framing” also makes the vital point that it’s not just wordsmithing.

Framing is cognitive, like storytelling. It touches the old brain, emotions: where decisions are made — not just the cerebral cortex, where decisions are rationalized, or drowned in double-think, or ignored as inconvenient. We’re living through a slow-motion ecological catastrophe and a mixed-speed economic collapse. And the President’s framing is almost always wrong. Tragic.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 9:04pm

Susan Manning Blanchard · Duke University

Excellent article.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 13 at 6:03am

MaryAnn Carroll

agree, agree, agree…couldn’t sell water in the desert…oh, that’s what’s happening!

Like · Reply · Sunday at 2:44am

Nicholas Parker · Top Commenter · Charlottesville, Virginia

I thought his GW speech was pretty good:

I also like to harken back to Obama’s Q&A at the House GOP retreat last year:

But too few and far between.. Weston’s essay is great.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 2:53pm

Dan Allen

“The Speech Obama Needs to Give” (October 2009):…Alas.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 3:47pm

Prokaryotes — · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

Reading this post, reminds me of Our Angry Earth by Isaac Asimov

I can recommend the audio book!

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 4:02pm

Carol Spooner · Redwood High

Yes, Drew Westin has it right. We must find candidates who can do this… at all levels, congress, senate, president.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 1:22pm

Peter S. Mizla · Top Commenter · Vernon, Connecticut

Obama had every opportunity to set the stage for a Progressive movement that could last for decades and forge a new direction for this country. He has failed miserably.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 3:03pm

stevegeneral999 (signed in using Yahoo)

New campaign signs available:Westen-Romm, 2012

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 1:03pm

David White · Air Force Institute of Technology

Obama’s failures make me nostalgic for Nixon.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 7:36pm

Amber Starfire · Napa, California

Hear, hear! Is right…

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 3:54pm

Kate Farrell · Santa Rosa, California

I’ve already linked this article by Drew Westen! It’s terrific…and the comments posted by readers are incredible, full of extended insight, showing how resonating this op-ed is to many of us!

2 · Like · Reply · August 7 at 6:26pm

Jill Evans · McGill

I hope he listens to this.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 9 at 3:40am

Thomas C. Gibbons · Eastern Illinois University

It is not much of a mystery why politicians hesitate to support climate remedies. It is a case where they see the cost as immediate and the payoff as long-range — beyond not only the next election but beyond their entire term of office. Furthermore the payoff would be that something threatening did not happen. Any competent political opponent can spin that into “it was never a danger in the first place” without even waiting to find out. Right now they often do that with ozone. Officials are also confusing the long-range payoff with having a long time to act. If you are an elected official, you are bombarded with dozens of demands for immediate action of all kinds to avert many catastrophes. It is not easy to sort them out or to figure out that a few might really be emergencies. Stories and images have their place, but many politicians can deal with facts. It is sometimes a good idea to talk to them as adults and give them space to study rather than deal with them as demons.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 4:42am

Sara Redmond-Neal · Business Program Manager at ECO-Buy Limited

Dear Mr. Obama, please hire this man! You’ve lost the hearts and minds of the American public and they are looking for new leadership in places like the Tea Party. Take back the power — a little confrontation is good sometimes.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 9:39pm

Bobbie Lewis Gallo

I wish that Drew Westen could work with Obama and many other democrats to teach them how to express their message so that Americans can understand. I saw Drew Westen and bought his book. HE should run for office!

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 9 at 2:24am

Richard Koepsell · SUNY Buffalo

I heard him too. He’s terrific and right on as far as messaging is concerned.

Like · Reply · August 9 at 6:42am

james_benison (signed in using Yahoo)

Okay, my thoughts are of an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory.

How much power could an individual have that digs up dirt on a potential presidential candidate and helps to see that person elected?

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 4:58am

Climate Hawk · Massachusetts Institute of Technology

I think a glimpse of what Obama was to become as president was revealed when he described the late Senator Paul Wellstone as a “Gadfly.”

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 6:21pm

shaheercassim (signed in using Yahoo)

Obama will come around, I hope. He needs the public to make him do it, but they’re too busy it seems.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 2:18pm

MaryAnn Carroll

Listen up!

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 13 at 1:25am

Paul Magnus · Top Commenter

Obama is a child of, and loves, the good life… the American Dream.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 2:54pm

Craig Coughlin

Wow. Thanks.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 5:38pm

Timothy Hughbanks · Top Commenter · Professor at Texas A&M University


By putting the emphasis on just the messaging, you and Westen sometimes seem to go too far in giving Obama the benefit of the doubt. The contradiction in Westen’s is especially stark here:

“IN contrast, when faced with the greatest economic crisis, the greatest levels of economic inequality, and the greatest levels of corporate influence on politics since the Depression, Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public — a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it.”

We progressives (myself included) want Obama so much to do the right thing that we can be absolutely schizophrenic. When Obama “put [Wall Street criminals] in charge” that’s much worse than poor “messaging”. As much as it pains me to say it, that’s betrayal — pure and simple.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 5:36pm

Joan Savage · Top Commenter · SUNY-ESF

An FDR story is that he liked to quote his outspoken wife Eleanor with either a smile of approval or the opposite, dismissive eye-rolling, depending on his audience. Conciliatory politicians need strong voices to quote.

Bill Mahar has humorously pointed out that the Democratic Party doesn’t have an outspoken group of 60, like the equivalent 60 Tea Partiers, in Congress.Thanks to a re-post by Wit’s End. · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 12:35pm

Paul Magnus · Top Commenter

“../I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue.”

I would like to know what Obama really thinks on AGW and the current CC. I have not heard… and no one has asked him directly, publicly.

Why has no one asked him on what he thinks about the risk involved and how he sees this playing out in the next 5, 10, 20 and 50 yrs?…See More

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 3:07pm

Climate Portals

Are you ready for a four degree world?In mid-July, as Prime Minister Gillard began to stump the countryside selling her carbon package, a conference at the… scientists agree that the existing gap between climate science and climate policy is profound. If the international community — including Australia — merely meets its current emissions targets, we will see average global warming of around 4°C by the end of this century, and perhaps 6 to 8°C in centuries thereafter.

Like · Reply · August 7 at 5:56pm

Climate Portals

At one point during his keynote speech, Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and former climate adviser to the German Chancellor and the EU, asks rhetorically: “What is the difference between two degrees (of temperature increase) and four degrees?”

Like · Reply · August 7 at 5:57pm

Climate Portals

“The difference,” he said, “is human civilisation”.

….maybe Obama is finding a middle ground here.

Like · Reply · August 7 at 5:58pm

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Jamie Ross

great article, great point… lousy Democratic messaging — brilliantly exemplified by Mr. Obama — hurts us. But one has to conclude that it’s a feature, not a bug. I’ve lived through all these guys — Dukakis, Kerry, Mondale, Gore (the candidate), and now Obama. None could make a simple point. Not sure what the answer is, though. It seems our government has gotten away from us, and as a result, our leaders have lost the power of clear speech.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 10:06am

oflibertysons (signed in using Yahoo)

The difference? Roosevelt did not have the powerful right wing propaganda media we have today: Fox “News”, Limbaugh, Savage, Levine, and many more.

This media is the key. It drives our national government with the votes it can field. This media can bring America to complete ruin.

Powerful, effective and pervasive propaganda brought another nation to utter destruction in our era: Germany. This propaganda machine is a cancer on the body politic of our great nation.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 9:20pm

Prokaryotes — · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

Also we got evoting today, which can be used for fraud, especially in the instance when no paper trails are used.

Also his opponents might be rascist from time to time, something which also is a difference from 90 years ago.

Also we have a new top priority emerging, climate change.…See More

Like · Reply · August 7 at 9:56pm

Prokaryotes — · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

OK not really 90 years ago 😀

Like · Reply · August 7 at 9:57pm

sasparillafizz (signed in using Yahoo)

While I agree the administration has been and continues to be an absolute failure at messaging — I think its alot worse than just messaging — the administration has made so many bad decisions (not just climate change) — consistently and that should not be papered over as just bad messaging, IMHO.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 1:30pm

Jane Ama Boakye Mantey · Nashville, Tennessee

I hope that Obama can win in 2012. With a win and no worries about re-election, I really hope that he can deviate from this centrist position towards a more liberal, “Big idea” one. This is all the hope I got left.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 11:16pm

Paul Magnus · Top Commenter

Of course we need to realize that this is all happening in the shaddow of peak oil. Probably the underlying cause of the US and worlds troubles here.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 10:33pm

Prokaryotes — · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

On the bottom line, what if the problems are so great that the situation so far can just be described as a good outcome?

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 7 at 4:01pm

Leif Erik Knutsen · Top Commenter · Friends with Joseph Romm

If that is the case then Obama is obliged to tell the American people so that we can stop living a dream and start to address the reality.

1 · Like · Reply · August 7 at 4:31pm

Prokaryotes — · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

The GOP holds the US hostage, the Bush years outcome has been to put a lot of people in critical positions…

Things change but it does take time. And i doubt with Mc Cain the US would have been better of.

For messaging, i think Obama is different, and he plans his moves wise. Which can be seen as weak……See More

1 · Like · Reply · August 7 at 4:56pm

Leif Erik Knutsen · Top Commenter · Friends with Joseph Romm

I sure hope you are correct. I do wish he would show a bit more gumption thou. I trust that he has an aid that reads CP from time to time.

Like · Reply · August 7 at 9:15pm

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Francisco Garcia · Owner at Francisco Garcia Fotography

Too bad that “the fix,” was in from the very start. We deserve better.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 11:17am

James M. Sweeney · Henderson, Nevada

Lol.. The fix is always in.

Like · Reply · August 8 at 3:25pm