Relax, climate hawks, it’s not about the science
Yes, my sources say the White House communications shop muzzled the Office of Science and Technology Policy from offering a robust defense of climate science after Climategate. And yes, Obama has utterly failed to offer a strong, coherent message on climate science and related energy policy (see “Obama calls for massive boost in low-carbon energy, but doesn’t mention carbon, climate or warming“).
I’ve been as critical of Obama about this as anybody, and like you, have come to the conclusion that he doesn’t appear to get the dire nature of the situation we’re in. But, in ‘fairness’ to the President, it must be pointed out that the White House sucks at messaging in general.
Look at their signature health care initiative. Please tell me what their message is? (see “Can Obama deliver health and energy security with a half (assed) message?“) Yet, health care is an issue that everybody in the White House cares about, unlike, say, climate, which beyond Obama and Holdren and, formerly, Browner, is of little political interest to almost all other senior WH staff.
Based on my discussions with leading journalists, as well as current and former Administration staff, this White House is the worst at communications in the past 3 decades. Indeed, the Obama WH is the worst of both possible worlds. They are dreadful at messaging BUT they think they are terrific at messaging, so much so that they shut down anybody else in the administration that might actually be good at messaging.
And that brings me to Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus and her op-ed today, “President Waldo: Barack Obama is often strangely absent from the most important debates.” Here are some highlights (lowlights?):
On health care, for instance, he took on a big fight without being able to articulate a clear message or being willing to set out any but the broadest policy prescriptions. Lawmakers, not to mention the public, were left guessing about what, exactly, the administration wanted to see in the measure and where it would draw red lines.That was not an isolated case. Where, for example, is the president on the verge of a potential government shutdown — if not this week, then a few weeks from now?
Aside from a short statement from the Office of Management and Budget threatening a presidential veto of the House version of the funding measure, the White House – much to the frustration of some congressional Democrats – has been unclear in public and private about what cuts would and would not be acceptable.
By contrast, a few weeks before the shutdown in 1995, Clinton administration aides had dispatched Cabinet members and other high-ranking officials to spread the message that cuts in education, health care and housing would harm families and children. Obama seems more the passive bystander to negotiations between the House and Senate than the chief executive leading his party….
The president has faltered, though, when called on to translate that rhetoric to more granular levels of specificity: What change, exactly, does he want people to believe in? How, even more exactly, does he propose to get there? “Winning the future” doesn’t quite do it….
Where’s Obama? No matter how hard you look, sometimes he’s impossible to find.
And Marcus is a progressive.
See, climate hawks, even on really important stuff that is central to his reelection, stuff that the entire White House cares about, stuff that they have probably done a dozen polls on, the President and his team have no simple, persuasive message — when they have a message at all, that is.
The ‘good news’, then, is that we shouldn’t rush to judgment on what the President actually believes on climate change based on his general silence and/or mis-messaging on the subject. It’s just the way he is.
The bad news is that folks I know who have worked with him say, he’s unlikely to change. Obama is a good speechmaker — and thankfully presidential elections are graded on a curve, so Obama only has to outshine the GOP contender, which is unlikely to be hard in 2012. But he is no message maker. He is no Ronald Reagan, much as he aspires to be.
And that means we are still the change we’ve been waiting for. Saddle up. Or, rather, blindfolds off!
- 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”