Thursday, February 5, 2009

If hope doesn't work, try fear

In a column in the Washington Post today, President Obama attempted to frame the stimulus package debate around old ideas and obstructionists versus the a new administration (and his posse in congress) with a mandate for change.

There were two things in this column that I found kind of shocking, considering the deftness of Obama's campaign, and the persona that Obama garnered over the past two years:

First, I found the tone of the column to be downright Bushian.  Obama used his deep concern for the health and welfare of the nation to push his stimulus agenda.  This concern, however, was framed similarly to the preemptive strike that President Bush sold America on in 2003 -- "if we don't do what I say we must do, our safety and security is at risk."   For those who cannot immediately see the parallels, let's look at the following lines from Obama's appeal:

And if nothing is done, this recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits. Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.

Here, Obama is using the same straw-man approach that the Bush/Cheney White House used so effectively over the last eight years.  Obama is comparing his (and the Democrats') plan with doing nothing.  Of course, this is a fallacy and should be pointed out as one -- it's not this bill or no bill.  The bill simply needs to be changed -- not scrapped -- if he wants to stick to his bi-partisan goals.  

In addition, Obama predicts dire circumstances if we do not follow his plan.  In fact, he goes as far as to say that we might not be able to reverse our decline.  That's scary stuff.  Are you warning us of an fiscal smoking gun turning into an economic mushroom cloud, Mr. President?

He then goes on to say:

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis

While there are certainly many Republicans who simply are unable to look critically at their blind trust of free-market ideology, the way this is phrased sounds actually more Cheneyian than Bushian Obama is actually saying "if you do not agree with my approach to solving the problem, then you are unfortunately misguided.  Only I know how to guide us."  Sound familiar? 

Finally, in a departure from Bush/Cheney idea management savvy, Obama fails to connect the fear he creates to the results of his plan.  He jumps into a list of objectives in his re-investment and recovery plan as "things we need to do" without describing at all how and why these particular things are the things we need to do.  In other words, why these things versus other things?  Are all the other things simply "misguided?"

For all I know, Obama's plan might be spot-on.  He's a smart fellow, and has smart people all around him.  But being smart isn't good enough.  And not sharing the thinking and reasoning behind each specific pillar of the plan is a mistake that is giving many Americans pause.  Unfortunately, I see the Obama administration already hunkering down as if this is a partisan fight, when I really do think it's more of a communications misstep (as I've posted about here and here).  

Not that the Obama administration is listening to my little corner of the blogosphere (where's that NYT gig when I need it?), but if I could offer my advice, I would have President Obama halt the stimulus bill as it stands, and request to break it up into the primary pillars that defined his candidacy, and pass them one by one. 

As far as I'm aware, there is no quota on how many bills can be passed in one term, so I do not understand the reasoning behind the bulkitude of this stimulus bill.  Obama and the Democrats would be wise to engage the Republicans on each individual cause, because there's more political punch in each item individually than all combined.