During our hour together, Obama told me he had no regrets about the broad direction of his presidency. But he did identify what he called “tactical lessons.” He let himself look too much like “the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.” He realized too late that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” when it comes to public works. Perhaps he should not have proposed tax breaks as part of his stimulus and instead “let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts” so it could be seen as a bipartisan compromise.He didn't know that there was no such thing as a shovel-ready project? Well, duh! It wasn't as if people weren't trying to get that message across while the stimulus was being discussed. The CBO tried to get that point across back in January, 2009. Also in January, Lawrence Lindsey and Alice Rivlin tried to get the Democrats to recognize this. Obama's own economic adviser, Larry Summers, had warned that a stimulus should be timely, targeted, and temporary. Everyone of sense understood that there was no such thing as a shovel-ready project, but the Democrats pretended that they were going to get money out there fast and put people back to work quickly. Hah! Mostly they were just funding Democratic wish-list items that had little to do with helping the economy to grow.
Most of all, he has learned that, for all his anti-Washington rhetoric, he has to play by Washington rules if he wants to win in Washington. It is not enough to be supremely sure that he is right if no one else agrees with him. “Given how much stuff was coming at us,” Obama told me, “we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. There is probably a perverse pride in my administration — and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top — that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular. And I think anybody who’s occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can’t be neglecting of marketing and P.R. and public opinion.”
And Obama thinks that his problem was that he didn't explain himself well enough to the American people. We're just too stupid to have gotten the message from his dozens and dozens of speeches in the past 22 months. You can hardly turn on your tv without seeing and hearing him. He's there at the basketball games. He's there on MTV and he's giving messages to school children at the start of school. He's given speech after speech, but somehow he thinks the problem is the politics, not the policy. If only he'd just had the right message, the American people would have ignored the lack of success and embraced the Democrats' bungling of the economy. He thinks that, if he'd just been more political, everyone would understand how wonderful his failed economic policies are.
That’s a refrain heard inside the White House as well: it’s a communication problem. The first refuge of any politician in trouble is that it’s a communication problem, not a policy problem. If only I explained what I was doing better, the people would be more supportive. Which roughly translates to If only you people paid attention, you wouldn’t be kicking me upside the head.If his policies were so successful, how come Democratic politicians are running as fast as possible away from Obama and his stimulus and health care policies? They're pretending that they're not allies who have supported Pelosi, Reid, and Obama down the line. I guess it's all because the people are just too dumb to fully appreciate how wonderfully he's been governing us through these economic times.
And then Obama has a "Who are you going to believe - me or your lying eyes" moment when he says that "he let himself look too much like “the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.”
I think I'll believe my lying eyes.