Sunday, June 26, 2011

I'm so tired of the "bully pulpit" argument

Have you ever tried to talk to one of these poutragers about actual Obama accomplishments? Part of that usually involves discussing one of the foundations of US democracy - the separation of powers and the need to compromise to get anything done in Congress. Ultimately, what you'll hear is that Obama hasn't used the bully pulpit enough. The idea is that if President Obama would just orate more on a particular topic, recalcitrant Republicans (whose ONLY goal is to deny Obama ANY successes) would come around and see the error of their ways. That is such ignorant analysis on soooo many levels - one of which is the irony Vyan highlighted in a great diary.

Uh, yeah...ok. Now I see. Liberals should be furious with Obama because he's been too busy Doing Great Stuff to constantly talk about it all the time. Wow, isn't that exactly the Opposite of everyone predicted that a Presidency by an "inexperienced leader who just makes great speeches" would be like?

Oh yes, that brings back some memories of the primary and general election when the most common attack from Clinton and McCain was the idea that Obama was all talk.

Last fall Ezra Klein wrote an article titled People don't listen to the President that was a sad commentary, but certainly true.

To read pundits talking about presidential speeches, you'd think there was a statute requiring every American to watch every presidential address and then score a 75 percent or higher on a quiz testing their listening skills. In fact, pretty much no one watches presidential speeches...

And that's fine. It's good that we're not a dictatorship where everyone feels the need to memorize every word the leader utters. But it puts the lie to the idea that the president can simply orate a narrative directly into the American psyche. A small minority -- many of them political junkies who already know what they think -- will occasionally tune in to a particularly momentous address, and they may or may not stay for the whole thing, and they may or may not actually pay attention while they're watching. Somewhat more people will then get a partial summary through news coverage the next day. A week later, most people won't have heard the speech, and the few who did see or read the whole thing will largely have forgotten it. This is, in part, why presidents are worse at persuasion than people think: They do not have the rapt audience that so many assume.

...since no one is paying attention to the speeches, there's a lot in there that never penetrates into either the public consciousness or the media's thinking, and all White Houses are routinely criticized for not making arguments that they make all the time.

So if the "party of no" is not going to be swayed by use of the bully pulpit and voters don't tend to listen anyway, you have to wonder what the point is, don't you?

Then there's the kind of argument I recently had with one of these folks about all of this. S/he tried to make the point that Obama NEVER once used the bully pulpit to advocate for the public option during the debate about health care reform. When I pointed out that Obama had - in fact - advocated for the public option in dozens of speeches and town hall meetings, s/he said that you couldn't believe anything he said - its deeds that matter. Well then, WTF were you doing going on about his need to use the bully pulpit in the first place? That's when you just have to stop and recognize that this is not a rational discussion...its a poutrage.

The fact is that President Obama is both doing and saying what progressives advocate for all the time. The trouble is - the tree is falling in the forest - and none of them seem to hear.

If you doubt the part about what President Obama is saying, as an example I'd point you to the speech he gave not long ago on fiscal policy. Here's a snippet from that one.

In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes?

They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President...

The America I know is generous and compassionate. It’s a land of opportunity and optimism. Yes, we take responsibility for ourselves, but we also take responsibility for each other; for the country we want and the future that we share...We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit our investment in our people and our country.

To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.


  1. Smarty, I know what you're saying. It's so frustrating. Even reading the comments about Ezra's article is infuriating. Several said things along the lines of, "I don't listen to him because he's so arrogant, divisive, etc." Compare that to the President's actual words: "The America I know is generous and compassionate. It’s a land of opportunity and optimism...."

  2. Monala - what a perfect contrast!

    I've often said that the one thing I question about Obama is his complete trust in the American people. I'm often not so sure its warranted. But I think it comes from his heart and his total commitment to democratic ideals. So the question then becomes - what is the alternative to extending that trust? That's where I tend to agree with him and try my best to get on board.