Huffpost Media
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

William Bradley Headshot

Obama Struggles With Fear of "Third World America" Amidst Media and Bandwidth Challenges

Posted: Updated:

Less than six weeks before crucial national mid-term elections, Barack Obama, the wide bandwidth president dealing with the narrow bandwidth media, is in a real quandary. He's enacted one of the most sweeping agendas in recent memory, but gets relatively little credit for it himself and, more importantly at the moment, his Democratic allies. Indeed, many worry that the nation is sliding into what Arianna Huffington in her latest book calls Third World America.

As Huffington puts it in her book, "We are obviously not yet a Third World nation. But we are well on our way. This is the unspoken fear of so many out-of-work Americans and those still at work but anxious about their futures and the futures of their children."

In another characteristic of potential Third World-ism, the super-rich and powerful got all they could ask for in the massive bailout of Wall Street -- after nearly crashing the global economy with their boneheaded machinations -- and still haven't turned around to re-inflate the U.S. economy. Meanwhile, America's decrepit infrastructure got relatively short shrift, and most Americans continue to struggle with stalled or declining incomes.

President Barack Obama, speaking late Wednesday at the UN, has never quite gotten around to his long promised pivot to the economy.

When Obama and his team took office, America was poised at the edge of the abyss. We've pulled back from that precipice, but the recovery is sluggish at best, the mood sour, and Obama gets precious little credit for helping avert an economic apocalypse.

In addition to whatever deficiencies exist in his policies, Obama suffers from pursuing a very wide bandwidth presidency in an era with a very shallow, ADD-oriented, media culture.

And he's doing little to deal with that sad reality.

In addition, it's obvious now that he pushed programs through in the wrong sequence, leaving Wall Street reform till late in the game even as it was apparent that the Wall Street bailout was not only massively unpopular but also unfairly conflated with his own programs such as the economic stimulus.

How does the Wall Street bailout get conflated with Obama's own initiatives? Through a shallow, sensationalist media culture in which truth is regarded as just another opinion.

While his insistence on pursuing a wide bandwidth approach to the presidency is laudable in its way, if perhaps also a way to justify his extremely premature award of the Nobel Peace Prize, it's not doing him or his party any political favors, especially now.

Before flying to New York to spend the rest of the week on foreign policy matters, Obama sought to reintroduce his national health care reform bill that is so controversial and confusing six months after its passage.

Since late last year, Obama has always been "just about to pivot" to the economy as his principal focus. But it's never happened.

Intriguingly, despite the nation's focus on the sputtering economic recovery, Obama is spending most of his time this week on foreign policy, with the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting taking place in New York. Perhaps he assumes that the Republicans' recent lurch further to the right will do some of his work for him.

Having tried to to deal, once again, with his controversial health care program on Wednesday, President Obama went off to New York, spending the rest of the week focused, once again, on foreign policy.

But a new Gallup Poll shows that Americans care far more about lingering economic woes, and the sluggish recovery, and place far more hope in Republicans than they should based on the record of the eight years prior to Obama's election.

The economy in general and the specific economic problem of unemployment or lack of jobs far outpace all other issues when Americans are asked to name the most important problem facing the country. Only one other issue -- dissatisfaction with government -- is mentioned by at least 10% of Americans. ..

. Nine troops were killed Tuesday when a helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, bringing the NATO death toll there to a new annual record.

The economy and jobs have been the two most commonly mentioned problems each month this year. Healthcare and natural disaster response (related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill) have at times approached the economic issues in frequency of mentions, and a fairly consistent percentage has mentioned dissatisfaction with the government. ...

However, there is a difference of opinion as to which political party would better handle jobs and which party would better handle the economy among those who cite each as the most important problem. Those mentioning the economy believe the Republican Party would better address the issue than the Democratic Party, while those who say jobs is the top issue think the Democratic Party would better handle that issue.

The Jobs/Economy dichotomy, which seems very odd, in which Republicans are supposedly best for the economy and Democrats the best for jobs, shows how the framing of a poll can dictate its results. It also shows how inconsistent Obama's messaging has been.

Obama belatedly tried to make the case that he has delivered on his campaign promises in a speech last Saturday night to the Congressional Black Caucus dinner in Washington.

Clearly, there has been a failure to communicate. A Gallup Poll last week shows that, of five major pieces of domestic legislation -- four of them enacted by Obama -- only one is currently popular.

That includes at least two others -- stimulating the economy and saving the auto industry -- that are conceptually very popular.

Only the Wall Street reform bill is currently popular. And that was the last one that Obama and Democratic leaders moved through the process.

The order should have been reversed.

The whole kit and kaboodle is colored by the unpopularity of the Wall Street bailout, enacted by the Bush/Cheney Administration, which Obama and the Democrats have allowed to become conflated with their own programs.

The financial reform bill President Obama signed into law in July is the most popular of five major pieces of legislation Congress has passed in the past two years -- in fact, it is the only one tested in a recent USA Today/Gallup poll that a majority of Americans support. ...

Six in 10 Americans approve of the legislation to strengthen government regulation of the financial industry. By contrast, a majority disapprove of the 2009 economic stimulus package, the auto industry bailout, healthcare reform, and -- most of all -- the 2008 banking industry bailout.

The Obamas ostentatiously went to church last Sunday, probably to attempt to dispel growing rumors given license by the toxic media culture that the president is really a secret Muslim.

Congress' approval rating has been stalled at or below 20% for most of this year, down from 39% in March 2009 -- and recent Gallup polling finds Americans no happier with the Republicans than with the Democrats in Congress. While some of this may be due to unavoidable fallout from the prolonged economic downturn, it may also represent an accumulation of public discontent with the more prominent spending and policy programs Congress has made law. Wall Street regulatory reform stands alone as a major legislative accomplishment that congressional incumbents would be wise to tout as they campaign for re-election this fall.

Despite mistakes, I think Obama is a very talented political figure, a good president who is doing pretty well in a very challenging and compromising situation. His only truly wrongheaded moves are in Afghanistan, where he might feel less boxed in had he ever worn the uniform.

But while he is putting that Columbia international relations degree to very good use in the presidency, and I personally find the geopolitics he's engaged in to be quite fascinating, the political game in America is all about the economy.

With the dysfunctional and toxic media culture he has to deal with, Obama must focus more on the repetition of his economic message. There's no substitute for disciplined repetition in dealing with simple-minded hyperpartisans.

He also needs to get his priorities straight. Predictably, after getting all they could reasonably have desired in the Wall Street bailout, many of the super-rich are whining about Obama supposedly being "anti-business," complaining like spoiled children that they're being singled out for their dunderheadedness and greed.

If anything, the polls show that Obama has been too kind, too solicitous. He would be in much better shape had he pursued Wall Street reform last year, on the heels of the windfall Wall Street bailout that is so unpopular and which has colored all of Obama's subsequent initiatives.

And if he was waiting for the media to straighten out the story, he was quite foolish. Because the media is a mess.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.