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Friday, July 13, 2012

So what would be a better answer?

At my high school I'm on a committee that helps seniors prep for college scholarship interviews. And one of the type of questions that we ask students is to tell us about their greatest weakness or about something that they wish they had done differently. We don't really care what the student says, but what they reveal about themselves. It's tough because they don't want to reveal some fatal flaw that might make colleges lose interest in them, but they don't want to come across as smarmy. I remember once when Hillary Clinton was asked a version of this question and she answered that her greatest weakness is that she just cared too much. Ugh.

So I can sympathize a bit when politicians are asked their greatest mistakes. Their opponents might have a long list of answers, but clearly they don't want to give those answers. When they're struggling to maintain their popularity, any answer seems a risk. They can try the George W. Bush approach and say that they can't come up with anything. That is never going to be a winning approach. Or they can try the Obama approach and say that their problem is that they just haven't communicated well enough to the American people how wonderful their policies are. And that is the answer the Obama gave to CBS last night.
"When I think about what we've done well and what we haven't done well," the president said, "the mistake of my first term - couple of years - was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that's important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times."
Er, no. It's hard for the guy who was all over our TV, showing up on sportscasts and The View, giving speeches to joint sessions of Congress and primetime speeches to pretend that he just didn't communicate enough. In fact, I remember his giving a similar answer last year about which conservatives rightly giggled. If that is his problem, why hasn't he told us better stories since then?

And the word "story" is just jarring. People don't want stories, they want good policies.

So what would have been a better answer? Given that he doesn't want to admit that he has made any policy mistakes, we can throw out the myriad of suggestions that conservatives have. Since he is running a campaign of trying to fire up his base and win Democratic-leaning constituencies, in a sincere approach to help him, I would recommend that he pick a policy to appeal to them. Pick something that he has promised to focus on in a second term and then wish he'd been able to have accomplished that in his first term. From his point of view, a better answer would have been perhaps to have said that he wished he'd pushed harder for immigration reform and that he will work to accomplish it in a second term. He's clearly decided that it is necessary to appeal to Hispanics even if he loses some white voters who worry about illegal immigration so why not double down with that as an answer?

Other suggestions?

Meanwhile, the funniest thing I've seen from conservatives in response to this bit of self-love from Obama was the chart prepared by Slublog.
Well played, indeed.

1 comment:

mark said...

I don't know what a better answer would have been, but I know of a worse answer?

Hmmm. I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it. I'm sure historians will look back and say, Gosh, he could have done it better this way or that way. You know, I just — I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet.