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In his finest hour, Obama manifests his greatest weakness

A lot of lefty bloggers are calling the president’s question-and-answer session yesterday with House Republicans his “finest hour.”  And there’s no doubt, even among his conservative critics, that it was a great performance.  But, was it more than just that, a great performance, a mere bit of political theater?

At this Republican retreat, he got what most Republican presidents get in their press conferences:  tough questions from their critics.  And by most accounts, he conducted himself masterfully.  The National Review’s Jim Geraghty believes “this event did Obama a great deal of good“:

it was the antidote to everything that was insufferable about the State of the Union – the uninterrupted platitudes, the dishonest framing, the aversion to acknowledging alternative views, the endless droning, etc.

Allahpundit thinks “the format ended up benefiting Obama more than” House Republicans:

He was on camera the whole time; he did most of the talking; he got to show that he’s perfectly capable of extemporaneous debate even with multiple prepared challengers lobbing questions.

First, major kudos to Obama for doing this and conducting himself with such grace.  The real test will be whether or not he can show some flexibility in responding to the concerns Republicans raised yesterday.  It’s one thing to conduct a press conference-style exchange on broad issues of policy.  It’s another thing to work with legislators from the opposing party to craft real legislation.

In reading the various encomia of the president’s performance (as well as some more critical coverage), watching segments of the exchange and reviewing the transcript, I agree he was more on “his game” than he has been in recent days.  But, the way he handled his critics suggest that he didn’t see his job in going to the Republican retreat as a means to solicit Republican ideas, but instead as an opportunity to convince them of the merits of his own.  He’s just trying to, to borrow an expression from his State of the Union address, explain himself “more clearly to the American people,” righting what is, in his view, the biggest wrong of his first year in office.

And therein lies his greatest weakness–that he believes people will just support his agenda if he expresses himself more clearly.  The problem, he believes, is not the ideas, but their expression.

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29 Comments

  1. But it is most likely true. As he pointed out, when you break down the health-reform bill, and the stimulus for that matter, into their constituent parts, almost all of them poll very positively. But when you just ask about the package as a whole, then that comes out negative. Seems pretty clear that there would be lots more support if the people had an accurate sense of just what is in these bills, it is a communication problem, not a content problem. We have already, for example, discussed many times the fact that all the polling is very consistent about support for a public option, and how that seems at odds with the polling about the bill as a whole.

    Comment by Tano — January 30, 2010 @ 4:45 pm - January 30, 2010

  2. when you break down the health-reform bill, and the stimulus for that matter, into their constituent parts, almost all of them poll very positively.

    For this statement to be true, each constituent part would have to be explained in full, complete with all the pros and cons so that those being polled understand the full implications.

    However, all poll questions are fairly truncated so the person being polled does not fall asleep. “Do you favor increased government spending for reducing unemployment?” is hardly a meaningful polling point.

    Furthermore, government by polling is leaderless stupidity. Obama has been given a few polls recently that should be sending him a signal. Mass., Va., N.J., were not pleas for more Obama speeches.

    Comment by heliotrope — January 30, 2010 @ 4:56 pm - January 30, 2010

  3. Helio,

    I don’t understand your last paragraph. I agree with the first sentence – governing by poll-watching is stupid, and shows lack of leadership. But in the next sentence you seem to be advising Obama to do just that, take a lesson from the polls.

    Anyway, here is link to a Kaiser poll that does a pretty good job of polling the constituent parts and looking at them from different perspectives (see esp. pages 8-12) PDF

    Comment by Tano — January 30, 2010 @ 5:16 pm - January 30, 2010

  4. Tano,

    I was referring to the only polls that count: elections. Obama is trying to find favorable messages for his governing philosophies from the Democrat defeats in Mass., N.J., and Va. He campaigned for the Democrat candidate in all three states, you will recall.

    He is avoiding any contradictory message the outcomes of those elections are sending. On the other hand, he seems to think the random polling (by Kaiser?) backs his governing philosophies and priorities. I see a contradiction between reality and desire in his thinking.

    Let me know if I need to try to explain this again.

    Comment by heliotrope — January 30, 2010 @ 5:26 pm - January 30, 2010

  5. The first question from the Kaiser poll report:

    Which comes closer to describing your own views? Given the serious economic problems facing the country… 

    It is more important than ever to take on health care reform now

    We cannot afford to take on health care reform right now 

    In the polling universe there is a chasm between “it is more important than ever” and “it is important.” There is a huge chasm between “I am concerned with how to pay for it” and “we cannot afford.”

    If this is the actual question (I took it from the graph in the pdf) it is seriously close to being a “push poll” format.

    The second question from the Kaiser poll report:

    How closely have you been following discussions in Washington about health care reform? 

    Carefully, somewhat carefully, etc.

    This question totally begs the question about whether there have been substantive discussions about health care that would permit one to be informed. Since no health care bill was available for study for any appreciable time. There were no open debates, hearings, examinations by media, etc. So this question is merely asking “How aware of you about the political posturing concerning health care reform.”

    I could parse the whole report, but with these two opening examples, I am inclined to say my time.

    Comment by heliotrope — January 30, 2010 @ 5:55 pm - January 30, 2010

  6. OK,

    Here are the actual questions http://www.kff.org/kaiserpolls/upload/8042-T.pdf from the Kaiser poll and they are doozies.

    This poll was taken primarily to assess how to overcome public resistance to Obamacare.

    Comment by heliotrope — January 30, 2010 @ 6:51 pm - January 30, 2010

  7. Perhaps it was his “finest hour” of shovelling bullshit. When asked by a Rep about his stand on not hiring lobbyists in policy positions and then proceeded to hire 12, he dodged by going on about how tough he’s been on lobbyists. An out and out lie.

    Mike Pence asked him, essentially, why unemployment is so high when the Porkulus was supposed to keep it around 8%. He gave a long, drawn out answer suggesting that all the jobs were lost before the Porkulus and that he had nothing to do with jobs lost since.

    He lied his ass off and the dumbass liberals ate it up. HuffBlows said he “schooled the GOP”. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot???

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — January 30, 2010 @ 7:02 pm - January 30, 2010

  8. when you break down the health-reform bill, and the stimulus for that matter, into their constituent parts, almost all of them poll very positively.

    So people like all the pork projects like using federal dollars on state or county projects? Or widening and/or extending roads nobody uses? Or building 19 century transportation programs in Florida that nobody wants?

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — January 30, 2010 @ 7:04 pm - January 30, 2010

  9. #6: helio – question 10 was interesting… people support “reform” when it sounds beneficial but oppose the part where it needs to be paid for (unless it appears that someone else will get the bill).

    I agree with Dan: Obama sounded good (the parts I heard) but the message I got was that all he wants from the GOP as acquiescence.

    As far as his remarks that the GOP presented his health reform like some sort of Bolshevik plot… the blame lies with the Dems in all their obfuscation, secrecy, and outright lying.

    Comment by SoCalRobert — January 30, 2010 @ 7:23 pm - January 30, 2010

  10. Obama and his gang rode into Washington with the idea the Chicago style politics coupled with his Messianic charisma and gigantic majorities in Congress meant they could roll right over the Republicans. However, it turns out some ideas are so powerful that even a weakened minority that embraces them can overcome the steamroller will and superior numbers of the majority. Freedom is such an idea.

    OK, so he met with Republicans, but it sounds like he met with them mostly to tell them why they were wrong and he was right. If that remains his attitude, then Friday’s exchange means nothing. If, instead, it marks a willingness on the part of his administration to not just rhetorically acknowledge that Republicans have alternatives, but to actually find a way to engage those alternatives, then there will be progress.

    Comment by V the K — January 30, 2010 @ 7:53 pm - January 30, 2010

  11. @Tano #1:

    I’ve spoken with many supporters of this round of HCR who defy the polls – as you have – by pointing out that sections are quite popular. This doesn’t seem persuasive at all.

    Were a polster to ask me if I’d like a shiny, red Corvette, I’d give an enthusiastic “YES!” When he further points out that I’d have to pay for it, my support drops significantly. Even if I had the money lying around, my existing car still runs fine, I could use that money to buy new equipment for my business or even pay off some outstanding debt.

    As a package, investing in a new car now just doesn’t make sense, irrespective of how fun it might be to fantasize about it. Is my analogy that far off the mark?

    Best wishes,
    -MFS

    Comment by MFS — January 30, 2010 @ 8:13 pm - January 30, 2010

  12. #9 SoCal,

    Isn’t it amazing (not really) when you see what is being passed as some divinely inspired poll question?

    Thanks for pointing out #10. You are so right! I just decided another relaxing round of iced lemoncello was preferable to parsing the whole slanted pole.

    By the way, I favor having my charge card bills paid by Bill Gates.

    Comment by heliotrope — January 30, 2010 @ 8:44 pm - January 30, 2010

  13. Too much lemoncello causes poll to become pole. Let this be a lesson to all. It is now time for me to wade around in the snow and see if I should go to the grocery store and forget why I made the trip.

    Comment by heliotrope — January 30, 2010 @ 10:03 pm - January 30, 2010

  14. “I was referring to the only polls that count: elections.”

    Hmmm. Thats interesting. The usual objection to governance-by-polling is that it comes across as a manifestation of a lack of principle in the politician. And the lack of courage to stand up for what s/he thinks is right and good for the country, even if it is unpopular.

    You seem to be claiming that the problem with governance-by-polling is the polling. That polls are not reliable – I assume you mean because they are such a small sample??? Is that what you mean? If you get a good poll – indeed the only poll that counts – an election,,,well then THAT is something that politicians should be responsive to.

    N.B. – we are not talking here about the politicians who are involved in the election. The election itself takes care of that. Scott Brown won the election, so he gets to vote in the Senate for the next three years. No, you seem to be thinking that Obama should listen to this poll, oops I mean election, and make his decisions on that basis.

    Let me know if I need to try to explain this again.”"

    Let me know. Do I read you right here?

    “I see a contradiction between reality and desire in his thinking.”

    Why do you say that? What do you think the reality is? I would argue that the reality is just as he says. The constituent parts of the health-reform are popular – the package as a whole is unpopular.
    We already know that some of the unpopularity of the package is a function of the fact that it is not liberal enough for some people. Setting those objections aside, the overall bill would have at least plurality support. The polls have been consistent on that.

    What of the exit polling and issue polling in MA done around the election? What do they say about the reality of opinion in MA on these issues? What do they say about support for Obama? I sense that it is you who are trying to ignore some realities here.

    Comment by Tano — January 30, 2010 @ 10:07 pm - January 30, 2010

  15. GOProud made a good point. Zero has done less for the glbt community than George Bush. Bush made tremendous advances in AIDS funding and military discharges went DOWN under his command. A group of gay men, the Austin 12, met personally with Bush and he assured them of his support. B.O. has done nothing of the sort and in fact targeted gay soldiers for discharge just like Billary did. When are the leftist elite who run our organizations going to finally learn that our sexual practices are not that important compared to critical issues like the War on Terror? They need to grow up and quit obsessing on sexual fetishes which make gays look perverted to the average Joe.

    Comment by Keith — January 30, 2010 @ 10:08 pm - January 30, 2010

  16. “why unemployment is so high when the Porkulus was supposed to keep it around 8%. ….suggesting that all the jobs were lost before the Porkulus and that he had nothing to do with jobs lost since.”

    Well that is obviously true. The unemployment rate was already 8.2% during February – the month during which the stimulus bill was passed.

    It reached 9.4% by May, shortly after the very first of the spending could, in any sense, be expected to kick in. And most of that spending was designed to happen much later.

    Are you trying to argue that this stimulus promised, or any other type of stimulus program could possibly deliver instantaneous results?

    Comment by Tano — January 30, 2010 @ 10:18 pm - January 30, 2010

  17. Are you kidding me?? This guy can not form a sentence! I remember the first time I heard him on TV, I thought who is this idiot, he can’t even talk. He was running for president?? I thought boy we are in trouble. I thought he sounded like a smart ass with the Republicans. He is so arrogant he went up there to rub their faces in it. If they thought he was being sincere then they are lost too. When it comes down to it it all depends on the people. We are the ones that are going to save this country. I just read about Obama recruiting kids in high schools to campaign for him. Go to atlasshrugs.com she has all the info it’s disgusting. Anyone who knows any kids in high school better get busy and inform them who this guy truly is. My son is a junior and he was one of a few that knew who Sarah Palin was when the campaign started. His teacher was a conservative and talked him into speaking over the intercom one morning to explain who she was and the difference between the two candidates, this was in CA! So there are good things happening out there, don’t give up the fight has just begun.

    Comment by jann — January 30, 2010 @ 10:29 pm - January 30, 2010

  18. Are you trying to argue that this stimulus promised, or any other type of stimulus program could possibly deliver instantaneous results?

    I’m saying that millions of people are unemployed and it’s not likely to change much anytime soon. Meanwhile, the arrogant sombitch doesn’t give a rat’s and hasn’t done a damn thing about it. He gives Americans the finger and says “Not my fault.”

    I still want to know, if you break down a shit sandwich to it’s component parts, what makes it even more appetizing?

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — January 30, 2010 @ 11:13 pm - January 30, 2010

  19. Well TGC, I’m glad that you were able to include a lot of cuss words in your comment, and insult the president, and I am sure, end up feeling so much better. I’m guessing though, that beneath all the bluster and blather, that you realize you were wrong, and he was right.

    “Meanwhile, the arrogant sombitch doesn’t give a rat’s and hasn’t done a damn thing about it.”

    Thats beyond funny. Have you ever heard of this thing called a stimulus bill? 787 billion dollars?

    Comment by Tano — January 30, 2010 @ 11:28 pm - January 30, 2010

  20. Are you trying to argue that this stimulus promised, or any other type of stimulus program could possibly deliver instantaneous results?

    INSTANTANEOUS???????

    The recession began in December of 2007, a YEAR AFTER Democrats took control of both houses of congress — with Obama in the Senate.

    They have been in power for THREE YEARS and all theve done is make everything much, much worse! Because they were the cause in the first place!

    No, things dont happen instantaneously. The economy continued growing after Republicans lost power for another full year. It took a year of Democrat policies, of impending tax hikes, and promises of economy-killing regulation for Democrats to scare every business and individual in the United States out of taking risk, out of investing in new endeavors, new employees. It took a year for Democrats to turn a growing economy into a recession.

    Then it took them another year to turn their recession into the financial crisis that began in October 2008 — two years after they took control of both houses — two years after they blocked all attempts to reform Fannie and Freddie and prevent a crisis that was predicted by Republicans.

    And they did it, just as they undermined their own nation at war, to get back in power.

    They’ve been in power three years, and the recession started two years ago, the crisis over a year ago… there is nothing instantaneous about it!

    Comment by American Elephant — January 31, 2010 @ 12:37 am - January 31, 2010

  21. The problem, he believes, is not the ideas, but their expression.

    No, cheesebrain. The problem, which I’m sure he knows and you dop too if you would have the intellectual honesty to admit it, is that you ideologues don’t give a rat’s ass for ideas, all you care about is their expression. It’s been a long slide dating to Lee Atwater and beyond, but Karl Rove perfected the politics above policy approach and you still haven’t figured out how you’re being used. Silly, silly tools.

    Comment by PeeJ — January 31, 2010 @ 1:18 am - January 31, 2010

  22. Well TGC, I’m glad that you were able to include a lot of cuss words in your comment, and insult the president, and I am sure, end up feeling so much better. I’m guessing though, that beneath all the bluster and blather, that you realize you were wrong, and he was right.

    He’s right about what? That he had nothing to do with millions unemployed and therefore, it’s not his problem? That he’s doing everything he can to make damn sure nobody starts hiring and investing in their businesses? Feel better? Not in the least, but I was honest.

    Thats beyond funny. Have you ever heard of this thing called a stimulus bill? 787 billion dollars?

    The Pork bill/ slush fund for liberals? Yeah, I’ve heard of it. What I haven’t heard is what the hell good it’s done for John Q. Public. I do hear the WH making shit up and even the liberal media scoffing at it.

    If it’s so damn wonderful, why does the arrogant SOBiC now getting around to talking about job stimulus? Why do the liberals keep talking about a Porkulus II whenever there’s a slow news day????????

    Because it’s not meant to create jobs and help the people. It’s meant to help the Statists hang on to power.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — January 31, 2010 @ 1:47 am - January 31, 2010

  23. Thats beyond funny. Have you ever heard of this thing called a stimulus bill? 787 billion dollars?

    Which sent billions of dollars to nonexistent Congressional districts and fake zip codes.

    And which has been found to do exactly squat.

    If you weren’t so ideologically blind, Tano, you could see that Obama’s policies are not helping and are in fact wasting billions of dollars while hurting honest citizens. But you are an ideologue, like your Obama, and your ideology prevents you from thinking or assessing matters intelligently, just as Obama’s ideology prevents him from doing things correctly.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — January 31, 2010 @ 2:23 am - January 31, 2010

  24. he believes people will just support his agenda if he expresses himself more clearly.

    That is Obama in a nutshell.

    He can’t for a moment imagine he might be wrong about anything. Or that any sensible person could posses all the facts and still disagree with him.

    Such is the consequence of having an ego that needs to be measured in light years.

    Comment by Classical Liberal Dave — January 31, 2010 @ 3:18 am - January 31, 2010

  25. No, I’ll feel better when the Statists are forced out and the American people are allowed to prosper again.

    Say, remember when liberals were trying to convince us that they were better for business? Now we have evidence that was a total lie, as usual.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — January 31, 2010 @ 5:22 am - January 31, 2010

  26. Tano in #14:

    You seem to be claiming that the problem with governance-by-polling is the polling.

    An objection to “governance-by-polling” is an objection to “governance-by-polling.”

    “Hi, I’m Scott Rasmussen and I want to be the President. I will poll, poll, poll and order that the results of the polls be implemented. When times are tough, I will poll like a pro and see what people will support. When times are good, I will poll to see what frills would tickle the masses.”

    This post is entitled: In his finest hour, Obama manifests his greatest weakness. President Obama said he was going to fundamentally transform America. He has applied extreme measures and pressure to the process of turning the US into a statist bastion of socialism. The people are in revolt. He has lost major elections. He can not quite come to the realization that his agenda is being renounced.

    This is not about polling, it is about ideology. The President claims he is not an ideologue. OK, he has a huge problem with his huge non-ideologue’s ideology.

    He told the Republicans assembled that they were refusing to move toward compromising with him. Apparently, compromise is a one-way street in the non-ideologue’s ideology.

    Dan’s post is not about polling. But perhaps one of Obama’s greatest weaknesses is paying to much attention to polling. Polling has its uses. Demagogues poll words to see which ones produce the greatest desired effect. That helps them mightily in selling their snake oil. Polling probably tells Obama to kill Osama bin Laden and then bring the troops home 24 hours later. Polling probably tells Obama to greatly reduce unemployment immediately, stop the foreclosures, stop importing, create cheap and green energy and eradicate halitosis.

    Comment by heliotrope — January 31, 2010 @ 10:07 am - January 31, 2010

  27. The problem, he believes, is not the ideas, but their expression.

    In other words: Obama truly believes that everyone else is stupid and wrong. And that if he just “listens” to them – but then does what He wants anyway, using the “listening” only as a “teaching moment” – then the world will love Him and the success of His glorious social-fascist ideas will become obvious and automatic, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Good luck with that, Champ.

    As for Tano’s nonsense: Unicorns also poll positively. Does that mean we can have them? Does it mean that a program whose stated objective is “a unicorn for every pot” (haha) could ever work in reality? What would it take, to make it work in reality? Should our country commit itself to such an effort? What kind of leader would take our country down such a path? Now mentally substitute “unicorn” with “ObamaCare” or “Big Government health care ‘reform’”, or for that matter with “economic stimulus”.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — January 31, 2010 @ 11:20 am - January 31, 2010

  28. [...] manifesting greatest weakness in finest hour? Gay Patriot [...]

    Pingback by Sorta Blogless Sunday Pinup » Pirate's Cove — January 31, 2010 @ 11:34 am - January 31, 2010

  29. Karl Rove is right to point out that the reason Bush got the Prescription Drug Giveaway passed is because he more or less let Harry Reid write the bill. But when it came to ObamaCare, Republicans were not allowed to put in anything about tort reform, or interstate competition, or health savings accounts, or deductibility of insurance premiums.

    In fact, the only time the Demonrats offered anything resembling a compromise was when they said, “Maybe we’ll put in triggers for a public option, so that the public option will only happen if the insurance companies don’t meet certain criteria (which we will design to be impossible for them to meet).” That is the only thing the Republicans in the Senate were ever offered as a “compromise.”

    The whole Senate Democrat attitude has been, “You can’t filibuster us, so f–k you!” Same at the House. And at no time did PBO intervene to tell his party to be receptive to Republican ideas. And he *still* has not done so.

    Comment by V the K — January 31, 2010 @ 3:10 pm - January 31, 2010

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