Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Did Obama read Ezra Klein today?

Obama this afternoon to George Stephanopoulos:
“If there’s one thing that I regret this year,” Mr. Obama said, “is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values”....

“I think, you know, what they ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment where there’s these technocrats up here making decisions,” Mr. Obama said. “Maybe some of them are good, maybe some of them aren’t, but do they really get us and what we’re going through?”...

“That I do think is a mistake of mine,” Mr. Obama said. “I think the assumption was if I just focus on policy, if I just focus on this provision or that law or if we’re making a good rational decision here, then people will get it.”

Here's Ezra Klein this morning, assessing Obama's first year:

But that candidate bears little relation to this president. The speeches are over, for one thing. Obama's use of the bully pulpit has been rare and restrained. He gave a major address on health-care reform when he needed to save the legislation in the Senate, but he didn't begin health-care reform with a big speech meant to explain the issue and his approach to voters. He talked up the passage of stimulus at his first press conference, but he never did what FDR did with the banks and explained clearly and slowly why stimulus was needed. A president who promised persuasion has instead offered legislation. And his speeches have been timed to affect the legislative process, not to convince the country of his cause and leverage popular support in his negotiations with Congress. It's been all inside game, pretty much all the time....

The White House has played an inside game, focusing on helping Congress pass legislation rather than helping the public understand it. That game was almost enough to pass health care -- and it may still succeed on that count. But Brown's election throws it into doubt.

Obama's diagnosis is accurate, perhaps, and fine for Obama to say. It's somewhat akin to confessing that you're overly zealous about helping old ladies cross the street. But then why not rally the troops, try to get the Senate bill through the House with pre-negotiated reconciliation patches, and then go do the Great Communicator thing?

I've left out, too, the more substantive part of Klein's critique - that Obama did not use the bully pulpit to push early and hard for elements of each piece of legislation that would have made it stronger -- a bigger stimulus, a public option.

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