In previous administrations, Presidents who ordered the military into action would go on television from the Oval Office in prime time to explain the reasons why it was necessary to put our service members in harm’s way, lay out the goals of the operation and the path to victory, and perhaps suggest a timeline for its arrival. George W. Bush actually gave two addresses on the Iraq invasion from the Oval Office — one as it launched in March 2003, and another in December 2005 to update Americans. In contrast, Barack Obama gave some brief remarks in the middle of the day from the East Room before starting an intervention in Libya in 2011, and now the White House has rejected an Oval Office speech before attacking Syria … as “passé”:
With military action against Syria set to begin within hours, according to reports, President Barack Obama and his administration are determining what legal route to take in order to justify the attack. According to NBC News White House reporter Chuck Todd, the administration is leery of seeking Congressional support for a mission in Syria because Congress many decline to bless such an operation. Now, according to reports from POLITICO’s Glenn Thrush, Obama may seek to avoid the American people as well.
Thrush reported on Wednesday that, based on his conversations with aides to the president, Obama will not address the American people about the mission in Syria before hostilities commence. Thrush reports that Obama’s advisors believe addressing Americans from the gravity of the Oval Office or the East Room is “passé.” Furthermore, most Americans who care about the mission in Syria will learn the logic behind it from cable news.
It’s too old-fashioned, the Obama administration says:
When I asked WH why O didn't directly address public on NSA aide said it's 'old medium'-most ppl view stuff online/cable loop @andie_walsh
— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) August 28, 2013
In one sense, they maybe right, but I’d question that logic. They’re right only in reference to those voters who immerse themselves in politics. The White House is looking at this from too far inside the Beltway, and overestimating the reach of cable news. Ratings for the cable-news networks have steadily declined after last year’s election, which means much less reach. The failure to use the bully pulpit to get around the cable networks and their opinion shapers is even more inexplicable considering the success Obama had last year in engaging low-information voters by going around hard-news media and talking directly to voters through the entertainment media, who offered few if any tough questions to the celebrity incumbent.
Presidents have no better tool than an Oval Office address to get voters to rally around them, and it’s curious that Obama has eschewed it in this case. Does the White House think Americans won’t notice that Obama has started a fresh new war front if they pretend it didn’t happen? Perhaps so, but that’s an even bigger miscalculation, and a huge missed opportunity. I’d expect this decision to change quickly.