The Buzz

Obama's Public Relations Obsession

With the presidential election fast approaching, there’s no shortage of heated rhetoric from critics and supporters of both candidates. Amid the mudslinging and story weaving, a few pieces stand out as insightful analyses of the charged political environment. Peter Wehner’s recent contribution to Commentary is one such effort.

Wehner begins from the assumption that Obama’s presidency has been an abject failure. He then analyzes the ways in which the president’s supporters attempt to explain away what he sees as the irrefutable fact of the administration’s inadequacy.

To do so, he examines three recent books by “authors favorably disposed to Obama.” All three writers, according to Wehner, put forth some version of the same four arguments, claiming Obama: 1) expected too much of himself; 2) denied himself the means to achieve his lofty goals; 3) has been “simply too pure of heart, too reasonable, and insufficiently ruthless to enact his agenda”; and 4) suffers from a failure to communicate—the man touted as “the greatest orator since Lincoln” has been unable to “sell to the public his remarkable achievements.” 

The fourth point is Wehner’s key insight. After the 2010 midterm elections, White House officials began admitting that “the broader narrative had been lost,” that they had “flopped as marketers.” These excuses, certainly not unique to the Obama administration, reflect a broad, disturbing trend among politicians to underestimate the American people and blame the voting public for the failures of its elected officials. To the contrary, as Wehner notes, “the American people are not like chained prisoners watching shadows on the wall. They are able to distinguish illusion from reality. . . And they are quite willing and able to judge their political leaders based on objective outcomes rather than on narratives and wordplay.”

Thus Wehner’s piece speaks more to Obama’s defenders than to the president himself, more to the climate of election-time tale spinning than to the current administration’s missteps. If Obama loses in 2012, it will not be because he needed a more effective PR team. This smart piece recognizes that voters don’t need to be “sold” success—they just need to see it.