This is the kind of thing that tends to get me into fights with reporters, but as a general rule, I have little respect for political analysis that boils down the problems of elected officials as "communications problems." Typically, politicians have struggles because of structural conditions. The prevailing force on the political fortunes of those in power is the massive unemployment crisis. The media has a hard time understanding this crisis because they live in a bubble and do not talk to actual unemployed people. Instead, they talk to each other, and this perpetuates the reinforcement of their own dumb ideas and obsessions. And so you hear all the time that voters are worried about deficits, when they are really concerned about unemployment.
But look, sometimes a politician gives a bad speech or makes a verbal gaffe and it's important to assess the damage. And there's something to be said for the way partisan battles boil themselves down to a war of talking points. For example, the White House struggled to maintain their "narrative" on health care reform last summer, when town hall meetings were aflame with talk of "death panels." The conventional wisdom is that this represented a "communications problem," but the real story is that health care opponents told outrageous lies and the media subsequently elevated those lies to the level of a "reasonable point of view" in a "debate."
But even if we allow that these things represent a "communications problem," surely we can all agree that there just aren't magical words, that can solve problems:
President Obama, struggling to connect with voters on the economy, cast an unlikely hero as the star of his narrative of redemption and recovery on Thursday: the battery.
That's from the lede of an article by Anne Kornblut and Peter Whoriskey in today's Washington Post. Now, I'm not interested in assessing whether or not Obama is doing a good job at "connecting with voters on the economy." In fact, for the sake of argument, let's just allow that he's doing a bad job. What these reporters do not seem to understand is that America's problem is not that Obama is doing a poor job connecting. In fact, this is not even Obama's problem.
Why? Because if tomorrow, President Obama wakes up and suddenly does such a fantastic job "connecting" and "communicating" with voters on the economy, to the extent that even his most hardened critics agree and have nothing but praise for his amazing "connections" and "communications," the structural problem of unemployment -- in which the unemployed struggle to connect with job openings -- will still exist. Magic words -- even awesome ones like "Accio, employment!" -- do not remove the underlying problem.
Now, if you want to write your lede like so -- "President Obama, struggling to ameliorate pervasively bad economic conditions" -- I can get with that. But when I read things that reduce grave matters of national import to matters of communication, my hand instinctively reaches for the mouse so I can click "close tab," because WHERE ARE YOU GOING WITH THIS, ANNE KORNBLUT AND PETER WHORISKEY?
A prediction: If the unemployment rate somehow gets down to a level that people consider to be more tolerable and manageable between the midterm election and the Iowa caucuses, we will hear all sorts of political analysis about how the White House message machine is doing an awesome job and how Obama has "got his groove back" or "found his stride again." I won't be paying attention to those articles either, as I'm genuinely curious as to how Obama plans to ameliorate the pervasively bad economic conditions!