What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

The president, in the main, has done his job getting things done, but the White House Office of Communication has not communicated effectively. What is most dispiriting about this is that they were given the elements of a powerful story.
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I write stories, not only because I love to, but because they are how we communicate best. Life is often a chaotic, nonsensical mess. Humans hate that. If there isn't an obvious coherent narrative we will hastily invent one.

What has been most frustrating about the Obama administration has been its refusal to continue telling the riveting story that got the president elected. There is so much blather right now about whiny progressives, appealing or shunning the base, and whether or not to write off independents. They all miss the point. Very, very few people care about political labels of any kind these days -- maybe Tea Partiers and those nutty Spartacist Leaguers that hang around college campuses. The rest of us just want a good, powerful, hopeful story we can believe in.

The president, in the main, has done his job getting things done, but the White House Office of Communication has not communicated effectively since taking office, and the result will be that John Boehner will be the next Speaker of the House. This fact has been written about and talked about in virtually every medium for months, and the White House's reactions so far has been prickly and defensive.

The only good news from the coming losses might be the White House finally understanding how effectively the minority has harnessed corporate money, rabid oligarchs like the Koch and Coors families, and the Murdoch media empire, to control political discourse even more effectively than they did during the Bush years.

The president is urgently banging this drum now just weeks before the midterms, and it lands on page A17 of the New York Times. And there it dies. No surrogates, few media outlets will repeat this meme. Murdoch's Fox/Wall Street Journal message machine, on the other hand, repeats and echoes its messaging from pundit to host to newscaster to reporter as effectively as the Soviet Union used to. Even if you know they are lying and hate their lies, you still can repeat their lies in your sleep. "Job-killing [fill in the blank]" anyone?

I mean, what does the White House have against catchphrases?

What is most dispiriting about all this is that, spun the right way, the Office of Communications was given the elements of a powerful, heroic story.

A young president, at the eleventh hour, pilots the nation's economy away from the iceberg of a second Depression. Then he courageously takes on the single-most intractable issue of the last century -- health care -- and emerges bloody but victorious. Oh, and along the way he winds down the grotesque tragedy that was the war in Iraq.

Of course the truth is more complicated, but if a Republican had done as much they'd already have his face on money.

Remember how after health care finally passed the White House promised to spend the next months selling it? Hardly happened at all. Though they were the victors, the history so far has only been written by the GOP.

TARP? TARP has already mainly been paid back, according to Murdoch's WSJ, but how many know that?

The stimulus. I've seen small signs in front of construction sites and along highways saying that they were funded by the Recovery Act, but never was there a loud, public, multimedia push. Instead, they chose a stealth stimulus because the GOP was against any sort of stimulus at all. And now stimulus is a bad word? What planet do we live on?

Infrastucture? The president made a fantastic speech about new projects, but the Office of Communication didn't give the plan a name. They seemed to emphasize more the bang ($50 billion) than the buck, didn't have surrogates rush around the country pointing out all the hopeful and necessary projects that would brighten our future, didn't even talk much more about it until today, a month later. These days a month is a year, and a month weeks before midterms is a lifetime.

On Nov. 3, the White House will need to be ready to tell a new story of power, hope and righteous anger. After all, Americans' most favorite story of all is the comeback.

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