Playing Small Ball

Victory Speech Screen ShotOK, excellent outcome. Not a mandate, but clearly a rebuke to Republicans’ misguided belief that hate and division can again pass for vision. Their pundits employed “selection bias,” the phenomenon where you pick the information that suits your argument (Karl Rove, Peggy Newnan, Rasmussen Polling, The Wall Street Journal, Talk Radio and Fox News) rather than the facts (Nate Silver). If you’re scoring at home, that’s Science 1 – Wishful Thinking 0.

The two headlines have to be Science and Demographics. The Obama campaign knew a year ago that twelve counties would decide this. They analyzed the Electoral College rules and knew how, when and where to deploy their assets. Demographics, because the emergent coalition of women, Millennials and minorities meant that no amount of safe white counties would be enough to win.

Still, the campaign was disappointing: substance free, nit-picking the tiny, inconsequential issues while ignoring the critical ones will be its hallmark. Both candidates were afraid to address real issues like global warming or the structural changes to our economy represented by the twin forces of Globalization and the broadly disruptive Internet.

Instead the Republicans invoked dog-whistle racism, and blatant misogynistic rape and abortion hot buttons.

And why did the President play the small ball? This election campaign has turned on taxes, unemployment, the size of government, and economic recovery, but let’s face it, presidents have much less power than we give them credit and blame for. If a president could control gas prices, for instance, would there ever be another one term presidency? Each September of an election year, the boss would just reprice gas at $1.76/gallon and get re-elected. How about if they could control the unemployment numbers? Same story: put Americans to work so the number gets to 5.5% or so, and voila! Congress has a lot more power over the economy than does the president.

What then is a president’s role? Well, for starters, the Commander in Chief is the last word on foreign policy. The president can mobilize the military and decide whom we talk to, whom we trade with, and who we bomb. But bigger still is the president’s bully pulpit, both at home and at broad.

And that, for me, is the big Obama disappointment. Not his foreign policy–for it has been the bright shining light of the Obama presidency–but his inability or unwillingness to tell the story of these years to the American people. Someone said the president is the Story Teller in Chief, and that, more than anywhere else, is where he let us down. Strange, too, because during the 2008 campaign, and right up through the inauguration, Mr. Obama seemed to get that. He’s a superb writer and an eloquent speaker, yet for some inexplicable reason, he stopped telling us what was going on.

Why, beginning with the stimulus, didn’t he lay out his plans, his outreach, and the opposition’s tack? How hard would it have been to let us know that history says when credit freezes and business stalls, government can prop up the economy long enough for it to regain its momentum? And when the opposition–loyal and otherwise–started to lie and obstruct, why didn’t he show us how wrong, spiteful and mean-spirited they were?

We sent him to The White House to fight for hope and change, and this president had the once-in-a-generation chance to re-stripe the field, but he would have had to tell us what he was going to do, and then tell us what he did.

The presidency stands for national leadership. I will grant you that in the Age of Information, when the huge messaging infrastructure represented by Fox News, Talk Radio, and a million Websites and blogs has the discipline to stick to the Heritage Foundation’s daily talking points, you have your work cut out for you.

But you’re the President. Your messaging infrastructure is the U.S. government and the entirety of the news media from serious newspapers to Entertainment Tonight.

So everyday you you call the liars out and recast the story the way it should be told, in truths big and small. They make it so easy, really. As the great American philosopher, Ann Landers, said, “The best dressed lie is never as pretty as the naked truth.” How hard would it have been to stop Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on day three when he said publicly that his primary goal was to see to it that Mr. Obama was a one term president?

There’s no rule against presidents using Power Point is there? For four years I’ve wondered why the White House didn’t hire the people who made Al Gore’s Oscar™ winning movie “An Inconvenient Truth” to make a few slides depicting the wanton off-the-books spending of the Bush Administration, the structural nature of current unemployment that began in the Bush years, or the painful truth that trickle down economics has not resulted in income or job growth for the Middle Class.

To our detriment, both sides forwarded deluded “plans” to restore an economy that is so significantly changed by Globalization and the Internet that it will never return to the Industrial Revolution model we have relied on for a hundred years.

Women, Millennials, Latinos, African Americans, and GLBT minorities emerged in this election. It was their first election as the majority. All of this “take our country back” and social imagineering of a return to the 1950s Hollywood back-lot America is the last gasp of the WASP majority. They are anti-immigrant for good reason: they don’t want to lose their majority standing. This was their last hurrah.

Photo credit: Screen shot from feed of election night speech.
Jon Sinton

Jon Sinton

Jon Sinton is an Atlanta-based serial media entrepreneur and writer. He was the founding president of Air America Radio, is a radio syndicator, and co-founder of the nonprofit Progressive Voices Institute Inc, whose smartphone app, Progressive Voices, aggregates everything watched, read and heard in the progressive world, and puts it in all one place on the Mobile Internet. @jonsinton @progvoices

  1. Prejudice is really hard to shake. It takes new information three exposures to even register. Who knows how long to dislodge a preconceived notion?
    The American press has a multi century history of ignoring African Americans except when they do something outrageous. So, since we still have a free press, which is free to follows its prejudices, Obama had a lot of history to overcome. Andit just wasn’t possible. No matter how much information the White House put out via various chanels, it just didn’t get picked up by the MSM, unless there was a controversy attached. Not to mention that investigative reporters who don’t expect to be fed have virtually disappeared.
    Don’t forget that there are only 24 ours in a day and time spent on propaganda can’t be spent on anything else. The Bush White House had plenty of time for propaganda/talking points because their achievements were virtually nil. It’s easy to talk when nothing is testing done.
    The invasion of Iraq, btw, had been planned as a contingency by the Pentagon during Clinton/Gore. What hadn’t been planned was the follow on and Bush/Cheney weren’t prepared to handle that, probably because it would have taken more money than they were able to shift from Afghanistan.
    The complaint that Obama doesn’t engage in enough propaganda strikes me as disingenuous.

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