Hey, let’s talk some more about the White House’s “messaging” problem

That’s the sensibility inside the White House these days: If there’s a bad story out there, even one far removed from the presidential orbit, the Obama crowd will own it. Every administration feels besieged at times, pilloried by the press, misunderstood by the public. But conversations with White House officials suggest a team that feels almost snakebit during a midterm election that is likely to produce substantial losses.

“There’s an alternative story here that we’re trying to tell,” says Dan Pfeiffer, the communications director. “But there’s an element of spitting in the ocean.”…

James Carville, the Cajun strategist, describes the White House mood bluntly: “They’re frightened.” Obama, he says, is “very insular” and “relies on a small group of people.” Recalling the atmosphere in the Clinton White House before the Republicans took both houses in 1994, Carville says: “You know it’s going to be bad but there’s a piece of you that says it’s not that bad, that there’s a new Newsweek poll out or something. You get beat down.”…

The White House message machine has also been rather clunky. Obama basically saved the auto industry, and the feds will likely turn a profit on the banking bailout that began at the end of the Bush era—but these points have all but vanished into the ether. And Obama might have found a way to publicize that he cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans in the much-derided stimulus bill—a fact that fewer than one in 10 people realizes, according to a CBS/New York Times poll. A conflict-hungry news business that rarely reflects on success is partially to blame, but that’s life in the big leagues. You go to war with the media you have.