Opinion

Who’s controlling the message at the White House?

Rick Robinson Author, Writ of Mandamus

What’s the message this week?

Anyone who has worked in a political operation has heard that question and knows the drill. Someone who is up on the campaign’s polling data picks an issue likely to move voters and then builds a theme of media around it for the entire week.

I once did some advance work for a vice presidential candidate during the week that small business was the topic du jour. The candidate made stops at family-owned businesses where he would be surrounded by smiling non-union workers who owed their livelihood to these loyal defenders of free-enterprise who employed them.

While the candidate was talking about policies that would enhance and enrich the lives of small business owners and their employees, talking points were distributed throughout the nation so that every elected official supporting the ticket could be on the same page.

The “message of the week” and the political operation behind it is Politics 101.

As Robert Gibbs took the podium each day this week in the White House Press Room, he nearly frothed at the mouth complaining about the efforts of the United States Chamber of Commerce in this year’s political cycle. Vice President Biden was frothing too, but as usual, no one was really paying attention.

The question many are asking is “Why?”

When you have no message attack the messenger.

The Obama political operation has shown repeatedly that it is inept at crafting the message of the week. Robert Gibbs’ and Joe Biden’s full frontal assault on the Chamber of Commerce is just the latest example.

For decades, Republicans have been critical of business and how business leaders handle their political involvement.

With only a few exceptions, unions back Democrats. Business, on the other hand, often cites concerns about access on the Hill and backs incumbents regardless of party affiliation.

Unions have made ideological decisions about whom to support. Business tends to have made, well, business decisions.

The business access model of political support has led to all kinds of weird political contributions, such as House Banking Committee Chairman Barney Frank getting huge sums from banks and insurance companies.

During this cycle, however, the United States Chamber of Commerce has decided to change the game. Tossing the access model of support to the wind, the Chamber has adopted the union approach to politics and has decided only to support pro-business candidates.

Unable to combat the message, the Obama Administration sent out its minions to attack the messenger. That’s not a smart formula when the messenger is a couple of million businesses, 96% of which employ 100 people or less, who were pissed about the access model to begin with.

What the Chamber has discovered is that the only problem its members have with their efforts in this election cycle is that the pro-business litmus test didn’t come sooner.

Forget that one fact-checking organization has said the Obama/Biden/Gibbs attack on the Chamber is “a claim with little basis in fact,” or that several journalists have called the effort “McCarthyesque.”  Politically, the message put out by the White House this week was just plain stupid.

The Obama White House has done what the Republicans could not — they have solidified business behind pro-business candidates.

Fire Gibbs. Hire Groucho.

Apparently, the message of the week at the Obama White House is being controlled by the Marx Brothers.

In the classic Marx Brothers’ movie, Duck Soup, the nation of Freedonia is bankrupt and needs a loan from a wealthy widow to survive. The widow will only give Freedonia the money if Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is anointed the nation’s leader (insert your own joke about China here — my editor gives me a word limit)

Groucho enters the Obama Oval Office with Chico and Harpo by his side. “What do we talk about this week?” asks the President. “Taxes?”

Joe Biden, played by Chico Marx, leans forward. “Hey, I got an uncle who lives in Taxes.”

The President slaps his forehead. “No, Joe, we’re talking about taxes, money, dollars.”

“That’s where he’s from: Dollars, Taxes,” interjects Biden.

Robert Gibbs (Harpo Marx) enters the conversation honking a horn attached to his belt and whistling. He pulls a chamber pot from his oversized raincoat.

“Wait a minute,” says Groucho, pacing quickly back and forth while smoking a cigar. “He’s onto something. Chamber pots … Chamber. Our message of the week is the Chamber. We’ll attack 3 million business men and women.”

“But that makes no sense,” says Obama.

“Precisely,” replies Groucho.

“Good. Then let’s go with it.”

Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at book stores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.