President Barack Obama's latest prime time press conference drew his smallest audience yet.
Is President Barack Obama getting overexposed? As talented a communicator as he is, it seems he's in danger of just that.
In part because he is such a talented speaker. He's the big gun that Team Obama keeps firing when it's in harm's way. Which it almost always is, having inherited the biggest economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression, a growing environmental crisis, and geopolitical crises around the globe. Not to mention a hyper-partisan political environment and a semi-functional media culture.
The question takes on some urgency for Obama with his "hurry up offense" coming up short on universal health care.
With Obama having dipped in the polls, though still very healthy in the mid-50s in job approval despite multiple crises, it's a good moment to rethink one's drink, so to speak.
There's no question that, in this fragmented media culture marked by an acute attention deficit disorder, Obama is the prime driver of news. But that doesn't mean he has to do it himself.
Obama didn't use surrogates very well in his Democratic primary campaign last year, even though he had some good ones. Too often, it was him against the world of his opponents and critical media. Things have improved since then, but not that markedly.
Last Wednesday night, we witnessed yet another prime time Obama press conference, this one apparently his least watched. Obama has already done more prime time press conferences than George W. Bush did during eight years of his presidency.
Without any real news to announce and discuss, the event turned into a health care policy wonkfest and, notably, an excursion into racial politics when Obama gave a politically inartful reply to a question about one of the latest media crazes, the arrest of a black Harvard professor trying to get into his own home. It was the sort of mistake -- I'm calling it a political mistake, not arguing Obama was wrong on the merits -- you wouldn't expect the usually carefully spoken president to make
Is Obama fatigued? That would certainly account for it.
The fact is that he seemed tired at his big Moscow and G-8 summits earlier this month. His major address in Moscow was one of his less compelling performances. Of course, that may have had something to do with the fact that Vladimir Putin made him late by keeping him long at their meeting at Putin's dacha outside Moscow. It may also have have something to do with the fact that Obamamania -- which according to polling, not to mention crowd reactions, stretches around the globe -- doesn't really exist in Russia. But Obama looked tired in the footage and according to attendees, and made a few unusual errors in pronunciation.
Fatigue could certainly account for his political mistake at the prime time presser with regard to the Gates controversy. It might also account for the wonkish cast to Obama's performance, which was quite "down in the weeds," as the saying goes, with respect to health care policy. The tireder he gets, the more professorial he seems.
Obama talked about health care again in his latest weekend video/radio address.
In many respects, health care is inherently a MEGO issue. By which I mean, once one delves into the particulars of the policy, "my eyes glaze over." Which doesn't reduce the importance of the issue. But does detract from its drama. There is a very dramatic proposal on health care that people can readily understand. Nationalize it. But nationalizing health care isn't politically viable in this system, as we are seeing with the struggle for Senate Democratic support for the so-called public option.
While Obama has used major surrogates to good effect on foreign policy -- on which he gets high ratings -- they've been pretty lacking on domestic policy.
In the campaign days, all the way back in, you know, 2008, Obama was frequently standing alone being pummeled by the Clintons and their allies and elements of the media. When all the while, Obama actually had more impressive endorsers.
Senator Ted Kennedy was a very effective surrogate for Obama in last year's campaign until illness struck.
For a time, Senator Ted Kennedy was a highly effective counterweight, notably to former President Bill Clinton. But then Kennedy disappeared from the campaign trail, for reasons we now understand all too well.
This went on even in the general election, when Obama had all the Democratic Party, including the Clintons, at his disposal.
One problem for Obama is a lack of strong major surrogates on domestic policy.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is not a very effective spokesman. White House Economic Policy Council head Larry Summers is not a very appealing spokesman. Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is still very low-profile, despite having been an impressive governor of Kansas. Joe Biden is the vice president, frequently an effective surrogate on foreign policy, but cast in the master media narrative as a gaffe-machine on domestic affairs.
Obama's "hurry up offense" is coming up short on universal health care.
Now Obama's "hurry up offense" approach is coming up short on universal health care. He won't get a bill before the August congressional recess, which raises the question of how best for him to proceed.
Especially at a time when most Americans are still most concerned with the economy. Now, the economy appears to be coming around in a number of ways. Intel, the leading maker of microprocessors, has sharply increasing sales. Apple sales of its higher-end personal computers, smartphones, and music players reported increasing sales and profits, defying recessionary predictions about the company.
The stock market has gone up, taking away the wingnut trope about "the Obama market." Of course, the financial sector should be in better shape, for the vast sums of public money thrown at it.
Kansas Governor-turned-US Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has had a very low profile.
Unemployment continues to be a lagging indicator of any economic recovery. However, it has usually been a lagging indicator of recovery. Which reminds that the big economic stimulus package probably should have been more front-loaded, with more infrastructure spending.
Which in turn points up the problem of deferring to congressional barons in the development of programs, as legislators by definition have more parochial concerns than executives.
That's been a problem with health care, as well, as congressional Democrats have been wrangling with one another various iterations of universal health care, a situation which allows the lobbyists to work their dark arts in the relative shade free from much publicity.
Obama has a lot to think about as he regroups his forces for a renewed push on health care, and on the rest of his agenda.