When I was a kid, I remember sitting on the couch, next to my father, watching Ronald Reagan. Reagan was on TV, speaking to us, with an easel, some poster board and using a pointer. He was giving us a lesson in supply side economics, using a graph to show the relationship between supply and demand. He spoke simply. It seemed to come naturally to him. But, I understood it, and so did my dad.
"Finally, we have a president that understands business," my father said.
In truth, Ronald Reagan had never been a business man and Jimmy Carter had been one for most of his adult life. It didn't matter. Ronald Reagan was talking the talk and it was on a level that most American's could understand. Barack Obama could take some lessons.
Bill Clinton could communicate in this sort of way, as well. In fact, Bill Clinton was likely the perfect communicator. He could take the most sophisticated of ideas and wrap them in the kind of folksy lingo that was fit for a corner drug store in Hope, Arkansas. Barack Obama can't do that.
George W. Bush could do that, but seemed limited in the depth of ideas that supported his fit-for-bumper-sticker speeches. What we need is a combo platter. We need a really smart president who knows how to sound like he's not that smart. And that, is Barack Obama's challenge.
Some folks on the right have tried to label Barack Obama as part of the "elite establishment." He's not. He went to Harvard, yes. But, on both his mother's and his father's side there is nothing that even comes close to the kind of pedigree that qualifies as American elite. Actually, since Franklin Roosevelt, only two presidents have truly qualified for that status and both of them were named Bush. John Kerry would have made a third, but most Americans decided to vote for the guy they said they'd prefer to have at their summer barbecue.
What is elite about Barack Obama is that he speaks well. In a speech he gave this past June on the Gulf oil disaster, he received high marks for speaking at a 10th grade level, which led CNN to ask whether the level of the speech was too smart for America. The answer is, unfortunately, yes.
In Time magazine's September 20th cover story, on the status of America's public schools, the magazine lists the percentage of eighth graders who score below proficiency in reading. The percentage is a shocking 69 percent. The percentage that score below proficiency in math is similarly shocking at 68 percent. Translation, more than 2 out of 3 eighth graders can't read or do math at grade level.
If I were Barack Obama I'd go down into the White House basement, find that Ronald Reagan easel, prop it up, and get some more poster board and a marker. At the top of the poster board I'd write, America's Report Card. Below it, I'd list a few categories. Not many. Just a few. Something like: GDP, Stock Market, Jobs, and Manufacturing. Then, I'd go on national TV, look in the camera and say something like this:
So, how are we doin'? Well, in January 2009 the American economy was shrinking at 3.8 percent. Today, it's growing at 1.9 percent. Granted it's not fast enough, but we're a long ways from where we were, and we're finally movin' in the right direction. We're turnin' it around. [Note: Most Americans aren't aware of this and think we're still in recession]
So, how's the market doin? Well, back when I took office the Dow was hovering at around the 8000 mark and today it's up to about 9,500. Bottom line, the stock market's gone up more in the past year and a half than in the past eight years.
What about jobs? Well, in January '09, private sector jobs were disappearing faster that we could cut unemployment checks. Today, in spite of everything you may be hearing, the private sector is actually expanding and adding new jobs every month. Once again, it may not be fast enough... and I wanna make it faster, but we're goin' in the right direction. [Note: Write out real numbers on poster board. Use red marker for 1/09 numbers and black marker for most recent numbers]
And finally, when I came to office, manufacturing in this country was disappearing, and disappearing quickly. Today, manufacturing has been on the increase for eleven straight months.
It's a pretty amazing turn around given where we were... and the credit goes to the American people.
(Note to self: Remember, keep it simple.)
And then, just to bring it all home, I'd congratulate and thank all the big banks, by name, who have paid back all of their share of the TARP bail out money, with interest (once again, most American's don't seem to be aware this happened) and tip my hat to the new General Motors, for beating the odds. I'd also mention that keeping them alive helped save jobs and helped keep manufacturing alive in America.
Both Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan could have pulled this off and delivered it with enough of a swagger to retake the narrative and send the the other side into a season of reactionary sound bites. Barack Obama needs to find a way to do the same.
Sometimes in life you've got to use what you've got. It can be a problem if what you've got isn't very good. But, it's a shame if what you got, is good... and you just didn't use it.
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