[Jimmy] Carter's energy program was right on the money. The message was fine; the messenger was awful. This is exactly the case with Obama, who is far more likable than Carter, yet is being cuffed around in a similar manner. Being right is nice. Convincing others you are is essential. Yet even George W. Bush, who left a grateful nation with two wars and a recession -- somehow he forgot the mumps -- hypothetically runs neck and neck with Obama. This is because Obama's insistence on realism comes across as pessimism.
No. It is because unemployment has hovered around 9.5 percent for well more than a year. The problem isn't the messenger, it's the lousy economy. Or has Richard Cohen forgotten that just two years ago, "awful" messenger Barack Obama and his "insistence on realism" won a landslide electoral victory?
Cohen, by the way, has written the word "unemployment" in only three columns in the past 19 months. His September 7, 2010 column was typical of the punditocracy's bizarre belief that political salvation lies in better speechwriters rather than a better economy. After grudgingly acknowledging that "some" of Obama's troubles stem from a "lousy economy," Cohen demands not that policymakers focus on repairing that economy, but that Obama look more "commander in chiefish":
Some of Obama's travails stem from the lousy economy -- unemployment up at around 10 percent. … But it is clear by now that Obama has allowed others to define him. For this, Obama needs to blame Obama. His stutter-step approach to certain issues -- his wimpy statements regarding the planned Islamic center in Manhattan, for instance -- erodes not just his standing but his profile. … [W]hat Obama can do -- what he must do -- is get some new people. His staff ill-serves him so that he presents a persona at odds with his performance. … The president needs better speechwriters. The president needs a staff to tell him not to give an Oval Office address unless he has something worthy of the Oval Office to say. The president needs someone to look into the camera so that, when the light goes on and he says, "Good evening," he looks commander in chiefish: big. In other words, the president needs to fire some key people. Either that, or the way things are going, the American people are going to fire him.
Similarly, on July 20, 2010, Cohen acknowledged that Obama's political struggles are in part a result of the fact that "[t]he economy remains sluggish and unemployment remains high" -- and then went on to conclude "Americans know Obama is smart. But we still don't know him. Before Americans can give him credit for what he's done, they have to know who he is. We're waiting."
Let's set aside the question of whether Cohen is right that the solution to Obama's political problems is improved speeches rather than an improved economy. Think about what it says about Richard Cohen that he knows the economy is terrible, that unemployment has been too high for too long -- but what he's really concerned about is Barack Obama's "persona." How out of touch do you have to be to repeatedly gloss over a terrible economy in favor of a lengthy discussion of presidential style points?