A person whose work I respect very much recently wrote the following:
My own view is that attempting to manipulate perceptions directly, without recourse to the conditions that created those reputations in the first place, is a pretty good definition of propaganda, and what's more, it doesn't work.
The writer, Simon Anholt, is known for his expertise in national identity and reputation. He was not referring to President Obama's speech to America's children on September 8, 2009. He could have been, given some of the initial public reactions to the planned address.
A year ago, Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama was on the precipice of his historic ascent to the American presidency. Who can forget his Chicago victory speech the night of November 4, 2008?
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
As a non-partisan independent who did not campaign for either nominee, I was as
teary-eyed as any other American citizen who felt the weight of that moment. I felt the same emotions as I watched the presidential inauguration.
The Obama effect continued its brisk pace as I taught my Syracuse University graduate course about the Obama administration's first one hundred days. I wrote a very favorable profile in my short book, Persuader-in-Chief, which focuses on the mood of the country during the president-elect period from November 2008 to January 2009.
Obama has become over-exposed. Or at least that's the growing perception. Reputable polls from Rasmussen to Zogby tell us that the president's numbers are falling. Today's Rasmussen presidential tracking poll shows that 28% of Americans "strongly approve" of Obama's performance while 40% strongly disapprove. David Brooks calls it the Obama Slide. It's not electric.
We have moved away from the Obama effect (akin to the Oprah effect) and are now suffering from Obama fatigue barely seven months into this presidency. The president risks reinforcing that fatigue if he and his staff ignore the conditions that gave rise to it. These conditions have to do with the growing perception that the president is taking on too many agendas, too soon, and interjecting his opinion on some topics (the arrest of his Harvard professor friend) while not speaking out enough on other topics (Afghanistan).
When the White House announced that Obama would address the nation's school children, I immediately thought, of course. It's a safe topic. Who among us is against the education of children in America? There is not a politician in America who would run against that platform. Educating our children is not a public option we contest. But the importance of this subject--the proverbial and literal teachable moment--may very well be lost in the fatigue fog.
Brand Obama remains the most powerful brand in the world. But the omnipresident faces a citizenry that is finding its voice separate and equal from his own. And that gives us energy.
Dr. Nancy Snow (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches courses in war, media and propaganda and advanced public diplomacy at the Newhouse School, Syracuse University. Her book, Persuader-in-Chief, will be released in an expanded version later this month.