Will President Obama Learn From His Mistake?

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Originally Published 11/27/2012 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-hoelzer/president-obama-biggest-mistake_b_2197795.html

As Barack Obama prepares for his second term as President of the United States, it’s worth remembering what he identified as the biggest “mistake of his first term.” Six months ago, he told Charlie Rose it was his failure to communicate.

How is it possible that President Obama — whose campaign oratory has quite literally made audiences swoon — struggles when it comes to communicating his own policy agenda?

He applies the same communication strategy in office as he does on the campaign. He even employs the same people. There isn’t a press or communications office in the Obama Administration — from the White House, to the Justice Department to the TSA — that hasn’t been staffed with the same brilliant communicators who helped elect Barack Obama to the presidency not once, but twice.

Yet a majority of Americans still don’t believe that the stimulus helped the economy (despite rather extraordinary evidence to the contrary). And not only can few people explain how Obamacare works, a significant percentage of Americans thinks the president supports “death panels.”

Is convincing the American people that their president doesn’t want to kill them really that much harder than electing the first African-American president?

Or is it possible that communicating policy is different than communicating on a campaign?

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Fact Checking Ain't that Hard

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While reviews of Candy Crowley’s performance Tuesday night have been predictably mixed, everyone seems to agree that asserting a policy fact in the middle of a political debate is “news.”

In case you missed it:  Tuesday night, Governor Romney accused President Obama of having taken two weeks to call the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya an “act of terror.”  President Obama said Governor Romney was wrong.  Governor Romney said something to the effect of “Uh – huh!”  Obama responded with a version of:  “Uh – uh!”   Romney: “Uh – huh!”  Obama: “Uh – uh!”  Then Candy Crowley stepped in and basically said: “Look, Governor Romney has a point, but if you want to get all technical about it, the President used the phrase “acts of terror” the day after the attack.  Now that that is settled, do you think we might try to have a substantive policy debate given that one of you will be the next leader of the free world?”**

Chris Matthews called Crowley brave, pointing out the guts it must have taken the CNN anchor to audaciously assert a fact just when the fight was getting good for Republicans.  “If she had been wrong on that, the hell she would have taken from all of these media watchers from the right.”  Media watchers from the right have decided to give Crowley hell anyway.  And others, like Rachel Maddow, praised the moderator by saying how incredibly hard it is to fact-check in real time.

With all due respect to Mr. Matthews and Ms. Maddow, I disagree.

I’m not saying it isn’t rare to see facts get in the way of a good political debate.  Daily Show writers would have to work a lot harder if the air waves weren’t full of political pundits, spokespeople and strategists passionately arguing for and against policies they barely seem to understand.  And, I’m not saying it isn’t hard for a well-intentioned commentator to fact check in real time.  It’s impossible for even the most well-prepared anchor to become an expert on every issue their show covers and guests can’t engage in real-time fact checking if they don’t know anything about an issue beyond the two or three talking points they memorized before the show.  (Or they aren’t allowed to admit when they are wrong and the other side has a point.  More on that later.)

 

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