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March 23, 2009

Beyond The Rhetoric

Kraft Obama Tonight.jpg

Now, four days after Obama’s “Tonight Show” drop in, it’s interesting to consider the image TIME editors selected for the WH photo site. Set in the White House press corps file center, the Brooks Kraft picture emphasizes Obama’s Leno appearance as a performance, as a piece of political theatre.

In granting Obama his gift as a confident and skillful communicator, especially via the television medium, what the photo clearly emphasizes are the limits of such skill, especially with (the country in trouble and) reporters standing by for “real” news.

In his piece on Sunday, “Has a ‘Katrina Moment’ Arrived?“, Frank Rich crafts an argument that closely parallels this photo. Juxtaposing the Wall Street-friendly pedigree, inclinations and initial actions of Obama’s economic team with Obama’s populist and “re-regulatory” signals and communications to the American people, Rich lays out the contradiction plainly and simply in terms of governance versus rhetoric.

Rich highlights the limit too. In dramatic terms (considering the Katrina headline), he sees Obama as fast approaching the point where he must choose between mostly talking the talk and actually walking the walk.

(image: Brooks Kraft for Corbis/TIME.com)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p00e5523476cc8834 DennisQ

    In fairness to Obama, it’s quite likely that he doesn’t know what to do. We’ve never been in this situation before, and economists aren’t helpful. They don’t agree on anything, much less on a remedy. All Obama can do is give his best seat-of-the-pants judgement as to who is more likely to know how to get out of this.
    Geither doesn’t know what to do either. Nobody does. Obama is promising to stumble through, but clearly he can’t say it quite that way. Much as I like Frank Rich, he doesn’t know what walking the walk would look like. Everywhere Obama is likely to probe for a solution there’s an angry constituency that cries mayhem. Don’t take it out of the rich! Don’t take it out of the poor! And God forbid, haven’t we in the middle suffered enough already?
    I admit my own cluelessness. I’m waiting to read some analysis that makes sense, and isn’t merely someone’s argument for protecting and preserving them. None of us has yet suffered as much as we’re going to, and we’re all going to squawk a lot more. Maybe that’s what these economic collapses are really all about – they’re like fires that sweep across certain forests killing trees that suppress new growth.

  • Gasho

    When I hear Obama speak, I’m comforted. When I hear analysis by the media – including the bloggers on the left – I’m terrified.
    These are big big problems, people. Obama can’t snap his fingers and the problems are over.. there’s work to be done. As DennisQ points out, it’s not clear what needs to happen, either. Nobody knows. I’m glad we’ve got a president who’s smart and thoughtful, though!
    People seemed to do a whole lot less whining when their liberties were being stripped – so long as their bubble inflated (or Magical Madoff) portfolios were showing good numbers.
    The cleanup always sucks. Bush was the irresponsible frat boy party-er forcing everyone to do shots, climb the flagpole naked and beat up the freshmen .. now Obama is on the cleanup crew mopping puke off the pool table and waking up the passed out idiots in the stairway — and doing it with a smile — and getting cursed and spit on by the hungover masses. We need to grow up and grab a mop; open some windows and haul W. off to the Hague.
    To sum up:
    Reckless Partying=Fun, but not constructive
    Cleanup=NOT fun, but necessary
    THIS is the CHANGE we VOTED for.

  • jtfrom BC

    My first impression is, Big Brother and a lot of little brothers, circa 1984, with compliments from George O.

  • cenoxo

    What we have here…

    …is a failure to communicate.

    Don’t faze me, Bro.

  • Westofeast

    I see this more as a marginalizing of the White House press corps. As society moves to using the innerwebs for more of its news and information, newspapers and other old school channels diminish. As the President reaches out to the public through other modes, the press corps had better wake up and smell their increasing irrelevance. Villager-framed stenography isn’t helpful, so the Administration takes the opportunity to drive the development of new channels to build support from the outside in. Congress winds up with pressure from constituents in ways they’re not quite used to. For a time, this will be a more effective way to influence them. Over time, of course, they’ll adapt, and new ways will be called for.

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