All the President’s Problems

I, and many other supporters of the President, am reluctant in my support. Why? If there is a one-word response, that word is communication.

Much has been made of the President’s hesitant command of the English language–too much, if you ask me. The President’s personal speeches are not the sum total of the Executive Branch’s responsibility to the people, and focusing on a personal weakness ignores the other areas where the Administration falls short.

In general, it’s hard to judge what the Administration’s position really is on some issues. The war? Yes, that’s clear. But fiscal responsibility? Well, we do have a lot of spending to do in the wake of September 11, but Medicare drug benefits isn’t part of that. How does Medicare fit in the picture of promising fiscal responsibility, proper war priorities, and so on? The President’s rhetoric on tax cuts suffers here, but not because of a clumsy tongue; rather, the Adminstration has not done an adequate job of explaining the place for Medicare spending in the context of all the other new ways we’re spending tax money these days, and it’s not hard to wonder if “the rich” couldn’t spare a little more change to get over the hump. The same could be said for increased spending on the AIDS crisis in Africa and No Child Left Behind, both worthy causes that might not be the best idea with the pressures the country faces.

(Note: I am not saying anything about the policies themselves here. The point is not that the policies themselves are objectively wrong, but that the Adminstration has not made the case for them.)

Even on issues such as the war, the Administration has at times seemed at odds with itself, and has not made the case as well as it could be made. In particular, French and UN perfidy was not emphasized enough, and the consequences of inaction were not hammered on early. Instead, they have left themselves open to nitpickers, who can point to the mess in Iraq and talk about how much better things would have been had they been in charge. Never mind that most of the nitpicking is fantasy; no one will notice if you don’t tell them.

To a degree, this isn’t the Administration’s fault. The CBS forged memo incident shows just how little objectivity remains in the press these days; even the press themselves are admitting their pro-Kerry bias in public. So there’s an extent to which the Bush message has been actively obfuscated by the press: magnified when mistaken, buried when not. But this has been a problem for other Administrations. Reagan certainly was able to overcome it, at least, and even Bush the Elder seemed to get his message out better than his son has.

Many of the people opposed to Bush are well aware of his policies, and better communication would not change their position. But nearly everyone, even Bush supporters, lean away from Bush to some degree, and in many cases this can be traced to a fundamental uncertainty that they have the whole story about his policies. Too many times, there’s a good story to tell; how many votes would be won by simply telling those stories? We may know in hindsight, years from now, but that won’t help the President in November.