So Obama’s excursion all the way to Europe to make a pitch on behalf of Chicago hosting the Olympics resulted in Chicago being selected—for last place. Was this a PR disaster for the Obama Administration? Not quite, but Team Obama needs to do a better job of positioning their guy as one who can get results by using the magic of his rhetorical powers—that’s leadership. Members of Congress feared Reagan’s ability to rally voters in their own districts to call them supporting specific legislation. So far, Obama has little to show for his Bully Pulpit prowess in the White House.
No serious person begrudges Obama for wanting to make a pitch for his adopted home town of Chicago to get the Olympics. But he could have sent his wife or done a live satellite presentation—thus making less of a big deal out of it. By going personally, he raised the expectations and now is suffering because of it. (It would have also been nice if someone in the Obama political team could have figured out which way the vote was heading in advance to protect the President from these embarrassments.)
One of Obama’s major selling points during the primary and general elections last year was that he was a great, persuasive speaker. Indeed he was; he persuaded more people to vote for him. But these persuasive skills have yet to be fully put to use in his presidency. Whether it is mobilizing voters behind his health care plan, generating support for economic bailouts or, now, trying to land the Olympics, Obama has failed to persuade his audiences to see things his way. This trend must stop or Obama may be looked at as another Jimmy Carter, nice, well-meaning, but too smart and ineffectual.
Obama is still a world class public speaker. He needs greater alignment with his oratorical gifts and his policy goals. Specifically, he needs a few small issues like the Olympics where his staff can stack the deck in his favor and his speeches can be seen as having a deciding factor in delivering a positive result. More important, Obama needs to nail down a very specific health care plan and embrace it thoroughly. Then, he needs to give an address to the nation where he urges all voters to lobby their members of Congress to support the bill and to pass it within a narrow window of time. If Obama can make this happen, he can then point to a very specific victory for his not only the country, but for his Bully Pulpit powers.
If Obama continues to give speeches asking for things he doesn’t get, his magic will wear off and he will be perceived as low in stature as George W. Bush in his second term (remember how persuasive Bush was in convincing the public to privatize Social Security?)
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