President Obama's call to action on his jobs plan hasn't yet drawn the same concentrated response as when he asked voters to put pressure on lawmakers to vote on the debt-ceiling deal. His summertime appeal yielded a flood of calls to the Hill, jamming phone lines. The people spoke and, because of that and a plethora of other reasons, Congress voted.
In the latest issue of National Journal, correspondent George E. Condon Jr. explores whether President Obama has lessened his impact by granting so many television interviews and making numerous speeches. When it comes to utilizing the bully pulpit, is less more? Two-time White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater think so. Condon writes:
Fitzwater, who was considered one of the least partisan spokesmen during his time as press secretary to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, thinks he has lots of company across the country in “tuning out” Obama. “I have totally turned him off,” he said. “I don’t watch his press conferences. I don’t watch his speeches. They all sound the same, and they are all empty. Nothing ever happens. Or they are just so disappointing to me in one way or another.”
At a news conference last month, NBC's Chuck Todd asked the president if he is worried that his "powers of persuasion" have waned. While Obama brushed off the question, his shift to the "We Can't Wait" approach suggests that his original approach of leaning on voters to carry his message to lawmakers wasn't working as well as hoped. Watch this mash-up of all of the speeches Obama has made since his joint session address when he introduced the jobs package:
When it comes to his nationally televised speeches, the president's drawing power isn't what it used to be. The huge audiences of late 2008 and early 2009 have, for the most part, been cut in half:
His social-media growth has slowed as well. Condon spoke with Alex Howard, the Government 2.0 correspondent at O’Reilly Media, which tracks social media:
Obama’s ability to reach people through social media has been “diluted,” Howard said. “He is one voice amongst a growing cacophony. Their initial strategy of having him talk a lot in the first six months of the administration has changed, and now we’re on to someplace that is new.”
Obama has given far more television interviews than his four immediate predecessors combined at the same point in their terms:
Still, others think that Obama is on to something. Condon reports:
“It is more true now than ever that you need to keep talking about what your vision is, what your proposals are, what your policies are—again and again and again,” argued a senior White House official who asked not to be named. “It is not enough to just give a speech, one speech. You have to get out there, and you have to continue to talk about it.”
“I think people are still listening to him,” concurred Tad Devine, an influential Democratic strategist who worked for [President] Carter in 1980. He said that the White House’s failure in political communications has been its inability to distill the president’s message to more-understandable terms. But now, Devine said, Obama can make his case in one sentence: “I’ve got a plan, and they won’t let it go into law because they are only interested in stopping me, and not in helping you.”
Video by Theresa Poulson contributed to this article.