A failure to communicate

Donald Rieck Contributor
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Talk radio is abuzz in mockery of a president that “just doesn’t get it.”

What set off this deluge? The president’s post-election “Strother Martin” explanation, which now seems to have become the administration’s official explanation of the self- professed “shellacking” it took during the midterms. To wit: “It was a failure to communicate.”

Obama’s right and the talk radio wags are wrong.

Here why:

The communication, or the marketing, (call it what you will) of this administration has been a stupendous failure. A shocking and inexplicable failure for a team that flawlessly ran the marketing of “hope” and “change” in 2008.

Yes, I am aware that the administration moved aggressively into widely unpopular areas: a mammoth deficit-exploding stimulus bill that was supposed to keep unemployment under 8% (it didn’t), the continued fixation on cap and trade, and the keystone cops passing of Obamacare, in which the process and final passage was simply inept, ugly and hyper-partisan.

But what also wounded the president was his administration’s inept and insulting media strategy. For all the swooning media coverage, the media’s love for Obama has gone largely unrequited. Alternately dismissive, petulant, and bullying toward the media, team Obama decided early on to adopt a strategy of going directly to the American public.

The president has been on a one-man pop-media and infotainment media blitz: Going on Leno (the first sitting president to appear on one of the late night talk shows), Comedy Central’s The Daily Show (Stewart), The View, the morning chat fests Good Morning America and the Today Show, 60 Minutes and ESPN (twice) to share his March Madness basketball picks.

In September he appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and in December he will be appearing on the television show MythBusters. And to top it all off, he did a promo for the George Lopez Show.

All this is just awful “optics,” as they say in the media biz. Unemployment has hovered in the neighborhood of double digits for two years and the country is still writhing under a battered real-estate market and a continued onslaught of home foreclosures, exploding debt; a whole parade of economic horribles. And yet we have country’s chief executive who, through the aforementioned media blitz, as well as churlish and diminishing squabbles with Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, is giving new meaning to the concept of lese majeste. He spent his first two years as president squandering the gravitas of the office faster than Lady Gaga loses clothing at a Yankee game.

So yes, specific policy issues hurt him and his party during the midterms. But his communication strategy was also a disaster. It is said that the electorate will vote for the person whom they would be comfortable having a beer with. That may be true when things are going well. When times are tough the electorate doesn’t want a buddy, they want someone serious. They want a leader.

Donald Rieck, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, graduated from Dickinson College and Dickinson College Center for European Studies, Bologna Italy with a B.A. in Political Science. He has a Master of Arts in Political Science and a Master of Business Administration, both from Temple University.