If you’d-a said in January 2009 that by the summer of 2011 President Obama would have disappointed his most devoted and admiring base—the professional communicator—you’d-a said that the presidency would be doomed.
But that is indeed what seems to be happening, judging from some of the chatter on the various speechwriting forums that we monitor.
Much of that talk comes from conservative-leaning speechwriters perhaps predisposed to finding Obama wanting. But not all of it. An Obama voter and longtime communication pro wrote to me the other day. He was specifically dismayed about how Obama handled the rhetorical challenge presented by the debt-ceiling debate:
I think he should have accompanied his speech to the nation with some Ross Perot-style visual aids. I’d envision three charts that show 1) what his plan would mean, 2) what the GOP “cut, cap and balance” plan would mean, and 3) the compromise he’d be willing to accept (and what that would mean). THEN he could have asked voters to let their Congresspersons know which one they want (kind of like “America’s Got Plans”). He had the chance to completely frame the discussion and didn’t do it.
What else could he have done? Well, where’s the candidate who used technology to defeat John McCain? Why hasn’t Obama created an iPhone app for governing? He had a great one for the campaign. His operatives could also have convened coffee klatches across the nation—much as he did during the campaign—where people could discuss the options and weigh in electronically. I don’t understand why he has done NONE of this.
In reply, I expressed my agreement with what he said, and offered:
1. I think this budget stuff is simply not Obama’s forte. (Just as optimistic, almost spiritual campaign speeches weren’t something businessman Ross Perot could have pulled off.) So I don’t think it activates his best creative self. (Even if we need it to.) And you’re right: Some serious ass-kicking visuals would have helped that.
2. I think a president is like a football coach, who is more afraid of meeting the press after the game if he went for it on fourth down and failed. When you have a lot to lose, you’re inclined to be more conservative. Not sure coffee klatches would work, or what kind of app would help him govern, and I imagine it’s scary to experiment with ideas during a presidency, because if it doesn’t stick, enemies exploit it as a failure.
If you think that’s lame, so did he apparently. I haven’t heard back.
Leadership communicators, join the discussion. As a communicator, is Obama a miserable disappointment? And is that his failure, or our fault for having such unrealistic expectations?