Saturday, March 14, 2009

It's storytelling time

In Larry Summers' recent speech on the economy, he actually started to paint a picture of what exactly we're experiencing (through useful metaphors), and more importantly, he explained how and why Obama's economic plan was actually going to work.   He was clearly not going to commit to the when's, but I have to say it was a bit of a relief to hear how all of these policies were going to address the issues that we're facing as a nation.

As good as the speech was, it was only the very tip of the iceberg in the telling of "the story" -- the story about what we're currently experiencing, and about how the different components of Obama's plan will deliver us sustainable growth.  

While the term sustainable is typically reserved for green strategies, it's a very appropriate term for what Obama's plan is attempting to accomplish.  Yet, bizarrely, Obama feels it appropriate to frame his plan as one that will enable a "post-bubble economy."  Really?   Is that really preferable to a "sustainable economy"?   In any case, Obama is bucking conventional wisdom that the stock market's reaction is an indicator of his plans' viability.  Rather, Obama is convinced that the stock market will reject his plans in the short-term, but will turn around when it sinks in how this deep investment plan will benefit the economy in a deeper way than we're used to seeing in modern politics. 

Despite the shocking and scary amounts of money being spent and proposed to move America forward, there is some good thinking across the board within the Obama economic team.  However, it took way too much of my time and effort to piece it together and to get somewhat comfortable with it.  Obama, the great communicator, needs to tell Americans a story that we can easily wrap our heads around; a story that explains the investment of our tax dollars as a path to future long-term prosperity that will pay dividends far beyond the investment.  

It's already difficult to justify historic levels of continued government spending in the wake of an administration that allowed deficits to rise uncontrollably.   Americans have every right to feel queasy about a proposed $3.6 trillion budget on the heels of a $700 billion TARP fund and a $780 billion stimulus package.   But if the story is told properly, not only will Americans understand that the $3.6 trillion includes the tremendous costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that the prior President handed over to Obama, but also includes investments in many key services that Americans want and demand. 

Obama will eventually lose the information war if he does not effectively re-frame his budget as a story.  He cannot require people to listen to the less-than-electric speeches of Larry Summers to fully understand the situation and the proposed solutions.