Erick Erickson calls this the “penultimate Jimmy Carter moment of the Obama presidency.” With good reason: Per Newsbusters, turns out the same paper ran essentially the same story in January 1980 about Jimmeh’s floundering first (and ultimately only) term. Think of it as a bookend to Democrats’ evergreen lament about how poor their “messaging” is: If liberalism is failing, there’s always an explanation besides policy. Either they’re not “telling their story” effectively — hence the consultations with Steven Spielberg — or America’s now simply too noisy and complex to be governed effectively by anyone, including a left-wing messiah who won in a landslide and whose party controlled both chambers of Congress when he took office.
I think Erick’s wrong about this being the penultimate Carter moment, though. The penultimate moment will be if/when Romney does well at the debates, thereby proving to undecideds that he’s sufficiently “presidential” to be trusted with power. That’s what finished Carter off in 1980. Election day was the coup de grace.
Consider this: We are in the midst of more than a decade-long streak of pessimism about the state of the country, partisanship is at all-time highs and the media have splintered — Twitter, blogs, Facebook and so on and so forth — in a thousand directions all at once.
Add those three major factors up and what becomes clear is that any president elected (or re-elected) this November has slim hopes — or at the most a very narrow window — for political success…
Layer over the constant stream of news with the fact that Twitter, blogs and cable television turn every slip of the tongue, misstatements or gaffe into a mountain — “the private sector is doing fine” being a prime, recent example — and it’s clear that the idea that the president can drive the hourly, daily or weekly message of his choosing feels outdated. The bully pulpit may still exist, but it’s far less bully than it once was.
That’s especially true not only because the fracturing of the media makes it hard to push a clear message but also because roughly half of the American public doesn’t want to hear the message (whatever it is) because it is of the other party.
So this is actually a “messaging” lament wrapped inside an “America’s ungovernable” lament. If you’re going to devote column space to exculpating O for the dreariness of his term, I guess you might as well kitchen-sink it.
The silliest part of this, actually, is the idea that tweets and blogs and even cable TV are major obstacles to Obama. That might be true if the electorate was uniformly interested in following politics day to day, but of course they’re not. My guess is that the low-information voters who’ll end up deciding the election probably don’t consume much more than a bit of news on the network morning shows and then a few minutes more during the national newscasts each night at 6:30, with some newspaper-reading mixed in. Their sense of how well or how poorly the country’s doing is, I think, basically impressionistic: Big news and large themes, like the eurozone’s troubles and the recent terrible trend in unemployment, filter through but the day-to-day frenzies of Romney talking about Wawa are too ephemeral to penetrate. All of which is to say, if unemployment was at six percent and the economy had added 300,000 jobs last month, Obama’s “messaging” would be doing just fine. It’s because they aren’t that his campaign and his apologists are forced to pretend that there’s now some sort of unmanageable cacophony preventing him from rightly convincing voters that everything is the GOP’s fault. That was the subject of Saturday’s “weekly address,” incidentally; it was dutifully covered by various news outlets and posted prominently at the top of the White House website over the weekend. Go see for yourself how many views it got on YouTube. Most people just don’t pay attention to this stuff.
Go read James Taranto for several more examples of media hand-wringing in 1980 about how goshdarned impossible it’s become to govern America effectively. Exit quotation from Robert Redford: “The Democratic Party has a good story to tell, but they don’t know how to tell it.” Sigh.