Anyone watching President Obama's press conference yesterday had to be struck by the fact that he reserved his greatest energy for his attack on Democratic critics, which might be a misstep with more far-reaching repercussions than the compromise on tax-cuts.
One guideline in communications is that you lead with your lead. You state your talking point or primary narrative and you repeat it to varying degrees over and over again. And -- no matter what -- you make damn sure you end with it.
The president didn't do that. He didn't start with it, and he didn't end with it.
Somewhere in the middle there was an effective analogy about the welfare of the unemployed and middle-class being held "hostage" by the Republicans -- and a worthwhile talking point about how the protection of the American public as a whole (including the middle class in particular) is the president's "north star" or central guiding value.
However, that argument -- that the president should be and is the protector of the American middle class against the attacks on their welfare by the Republicans -- was lost amidst a great deal of over-explaining and self-defensive tangents. It should have been repeated and rephrased over and over again. Whether or not one supports this particular decision, one can't help but come away with the impression that President Obama believes that is what he has done. He needed to say it -- and needs to continue saying it -- over and over and over again.
Remember "Hope" and "Change"?
Unlike his self-professed role-model, President Reagan, our newest "Great Communicator" isn't communicating effectively while in office. What worked so well for President Obama during his campaign has not been the approach that he is taking to communicating now that he is in office.
Rather than going into long detailed explanations about the ugly process of how the legislative sausage is made, President Obama needs to go back to leading by simplicity and clarity of communication. He needs to go back to his role as an inspirational leader upon whom people can project their hope. We all know he's intelligent (and we're still hanging on to that relief by a thread). We don't need him to prove it. We need him to lead -- which means being willing to make partisan statements at times. We need him to inspire our hope once again.
In the end, a Democratic critic isn't an enemy of the president or his goals. Remember: a cynic is nothing but an idealist whose hope has been disappointed. One person's "sanctimonious" is another person's desperation. People become more strident and rigid when they're scared. It's a human thing.
Well, many of us are scared.
So how should he have answered the question, "What do you say to your liberal critics?" Rather than go on a "no one appreciates what I've done" diatribe, the president should respond, "I can understand their frustration -- I share it."