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August 15, 2011

Obama Still Letting GOP Define Terms

Obama hay

Yesterday

Bachmann hay

Friday

Tim Pawlenty hay

Friday

Herb Cain hay

Friday

Friday

Update:  Maybe this bears a little more explanation.  Yes, in part this is tongue-in-cheek. However, what we’ve famously seen from Obama is his tacking rightward, continually adopting the terms and agenda, including the buzzwords and framing of the GOP. Visually here, we’re seeing nothing much different. Obviously, the big buzz  – because the media loves the horserace, even if nobody is ever going to remember the 2011 Ames Straw Poll — has been Iowa, and the GOP candidates, in front of barns, hay bales, corn fields, cattle pens and the like.

What the Dems keep hoping for, in contrast, is for Obama to establish his own narrative about what’s wrong with the economy, with his own, more progressive agenda to impress upon the American people.  So here we are, after the massive, “no-revenue” compromise with the GOP over the budget, and Obama has still another chance to reset.  And what kind of setting and backdrop does the White House choose to model/signal/distinguish what’s on the Democratic horizon?

Just like most-every-other initiative, the Administrations’s reflex is not to emphasize a difference.  Instead, what we get is an Obama bus, just like the Bachmann bus or the Perry bus or the Pawlenty bus, and we get Obama flocking to the heartland and the hay bales, adopting the very visual signature this week and in the coming weeks, that shouts out: “GOP” —  like the President might as well be another-in-a-line, wannabe-be, GOP “choke-the-government” deficit barker pitching the crowd last Friday at the Iowa State Fair.  I mean, Michael Deaver, looking at Obama with the hay bales, must be laughing from the grave.

He even had his own heckler, just like Romney!

…And yes, the people in the first photo, above, don’t look very happy.

(Note: replaced Romney photo from New Hampshire with Romney on Friday. photo 1: Jason Reed/Reuters caption: U.S. President Barack Obama stands in front of participants during a town hall-style event at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, August 15, 2011. Obama blasted Republicans over taxes on Monday as he launched a bus tour of the U.S. Midwest to tout his job-growth strategy and distance himself from anger toward Washington that could dent his 2012 re-election hopes. .photo 2: Charles Dharapak / AP caption: Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., campaigns at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. photo 3 & 4: Charles Dharapak / AP. photo 5: Jim Young/Reuters. caption: U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney listens to questions after delivering a speech at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, August 11, 2011. photo 6 & 7: Jason Reed/Reuters. caption:  U.S. President Barack Obama steps aboard his bus after lunch with five post-9/11 Minnesota veterans at Old Market Deli in Cannon Falls, Minnesota August 15, 2011. Obama is traveling on a bus tour through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. photo 7 caption: Ryan Rhodes (C) from the Iowa Tea Party Revolution argues with U.S. President Barack Obama (R, back to camera) during a town hall-style event at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa August 15, 2011. )

  • Ciclo

    No one with the President seems very happy or excited.

    • Anonymous

      I listened to his speech, and it certainly didn’t me feeling happy or excited. Even when he has nothing to say, he usually says it well. The time I watched he paused inappropriately, stumbled in the rhythm, and looked as if he were a loser. Didn’t provide any hope it will get better, either. As the cliche runs, he kicked the can down the road. “I’ll have some very specific proposals by the time Congress returns to session.”

  • Stella

    Set decorators can always find work in politics.  More hay please, and could you put up some of those corn teepees?

  • BooksAlive

    The audience may be glowering on hearing him delay a “jobs plan” yet again. Wouldn’t blame them.

  • tinwoman

    I’m sick of poltiicians always catering to white Midwestern Baptist corn farmers.  They’re now a demographic minority, so maybe they could ask the rest of us what WE think?

  • T Perky

    Obama Still Letting GOP Define Terms?? Because of the hay bales that are a standard feature of any outdoor photo op? That’s really a stretch.

  • T Perky

    Obama Still Letting GOP Define Terms?? Because of the hay bales that are a standard feature of any outdoor photo op? That’s really a stretch.

  • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

    Not sure if the point was unclear or T Perky didn’t get it.  Either way, I’ve added an update to the post to elaborate.

    • T Perky

      Oh, I got it. You were calling Obama a copy catter for doing what every politician has done in August since buses were invented. I opined that I thought it was a stretch to call it another example of how Obama gives in Republican framing; what should he have done, helicoptered in? If you object to the framing, why perpetuate it? Sure, they’re all riding buses, but are they saying different things?  Seems like an interesting angle to follow, IMO. I’ve heard in detail what Romney, Bachmann or Perry have said any subject, but I have to go to local news sites to find out what Obama says at his events, it so rarely gets mentioned on lefty blogs any more.

      And now that the debt ceiling fiasco is over, should he have gone on vacation? I’m glad he’s out on the stump to provide contrast to the lunacy on the right, aren’t you? Isn’t that what everyone’s been begging for? You made the editorial choice to lump him in with the wannabes buying votes in a GOP fundraiser. You’re the one providing the “optics” for the disgruntled left looking for excuses to dismiss Obama’s efforts because they didn’t happen according to their schedules or in the way they think would be more effective.

      It’s your blog, it’s your right. As is deleting comments, which I’ve only recently realized was happening. It’s just disappointing that for the first time since I started reading you as a paper bag on bartcop, I feel like you’ve lost your objectivity. I feel you’ve gone from examining the pictures to telling us what they mean, and I’m not seeing what you’re seeing any more. Bummer.

       

  • omen

    the obama bus is such a fitting metaphor. it’s completely absent of any kind of messaging or vision.

    the man is being sabotaged by either incompetent staff or backstabbing pumas.

    • omen

      i remember when zigzag zell miller faulted al gore for doing photo ops with hay bales. argued this highlighted gore as being inauthentic. oh, yeah? where’s miller now?

    • glenn

      Right, because kewl bus wraps = coherent policy. I don’t give a shit if he doesn’t have a flashy bus wrap. I’d rather hear from the president.

  • caraf

    Those bales of hay are bullet-proof right?

  • Pastafarian

    They’re straw bales. Hay bales are forage; straw is for bedding. You don’t put expensive forage out where politicians can wipe their feet on them. 

    With all due respect to the man with the worst job in America next to our obese druggie neighbor’s septic pumping man…
    Mr. Obama looks even more uncomfortable around square bales than he did on a bowling alley. 

    I couldn’t help thinking they were all trapped in the Iowa Bale Maze, and the president just spotted an M. Night Shyamalan Martian. (He is looking rather…er…balefully toward the left.)

    Paul Wellstone used to climb up on things to talk. Yeah, he was a pretty short guy. Good balance too. 

  • http://www.wfgwomen.com/about-wfg.aspx Wfgonline

    Well this kind of hands-off strategy used to be explained by apologist as obama employing the rope-a-dope strategy.. They’re now a demographic minority, so maybe they could ask the rest of us what WE think..

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  • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

    T:  Well, there are a number of points here worth thinking about. If you remember the Bag post, Going Back Into Analysis, way back in January ‘06, we had a spirited discussion not just about Bag methodology, but about too much focus/speculation on the circumstances of the photo, particularly to drive a political point, at the expense of a purer examination of those element. I admit there’s a line there, especially when one also feels an investment in the politics. That said, you’re probably right about the “reaching” to the extent I could have just stuck with the look-and-feel of the Obama bus tour rather than start with a conclusion and an agenda, which was driving the “hay bale” comparison to the Repubs. 

    There are a couple other things you touch on, though, that need a mention.  Mainly, I hardly ever delete comments. Sometimes, though, when a Bag post gets a lot of exposure (like the Bachmann Corndog post) we’ll get a lot of people hit the discussion thread, sometimes trolls, sometimes people just throwing elbows, which doesn’t exactly sync with our deeper rhythm. When that happens, the convo can really degenerate and yeah, I will zap a comment here or there that is just completely crass particularly if it doesn’t address the photo at all.

    And then, regarding the Obama framing and the bus tour, I do find it generic at best, and yes, thoroughly derivative. Sadly, I think Obama finds his center-of-gravity primarily by orienting himself to those forces in opposition to him. I am seeing it politically and I am seeing it optically, and I don’t think I’m merging the two in my head. Anyway, I don’t want to go all “Drew Weston” on you, but looking at the pictures (and I just got back from a conference where I presented an analysis of the White House Flickr site to a large conclave of J-school academics), beyond a guy wrapping himself in the flag and soldiers and patriotic imagery (a lå Bush) golfing scenes, photo-ops with GOP honchos, but much more so, absolutely shrink-wrapping himself in icons of popular culture (movie stars, twitter and facebook, sports heros), I just don’t know who Obama is.  

  • omen

    you mean more speeches from the president will solve everything? a blank bus wouldn’t be such obvious symbolism if obama had earlier deigned to express any sort of urgency in addressing the stagnant economy and desperate rate of unemployment. but he hasn’t.

    how many years does it take for obama to come up with a comprehensive jobs plan? why do we have to wait for september for him to roll one out? true, the republican held congress wouldn’t let him pass anything. but why did it take until now for obama to express any frustration against rightwing obstructionism? obama didn’t howl in protest when republicans voted against closing the loopholes shipping our jobs overseas. obama didn’t protest when republicans voted against requiring full disclosure of campaign funding. even reid refuses to push to reform the filibuster process and require it to be a standing one. the democratic party couldn’t even be bothered to make gop obstructionism a theme to run on during the midterms.

    this kind of hands-off strategy used to be explained by apologist as obama employing the rope-a-dope strategy. well, you know what? not fighting back might serve his aims in triangulation but it’s not serving the american public, the working poor and the middle class, who are on the ropes taking all of the punches. no one is there to defend them. people will just have to wait for after november 2012 to expect any changes. and even then, only if we have a democratic house and senate. and even then, only if any reforms sought doesn’t offend our corporate masters whose lobbyist are allowed to draft and pen the legislation.

    maybe the bus was defensively left blank intentionally. a slogan like “change you can believe in” would be mocked in disbelief.

  • T Perky

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. There are very few blogs left that can take criticism; even fewer will admit there might be merit in the criticism. That’s why I keep coming back. As for the deletion, I can understand; I don’t comment much, so you’d have no idea whether I was a troll or not. Silly food pictures, to me, are not news; Bachmann’s gay bashing gay husband, on the other hand, is. She doesn’t get to say she submits to him in all things, then say he’s off limits.

    As for Obama’s bus tour being derivative, of course it is. The only way to do a bus tour is, well, to get in a bus and tour, just as photo ops in “The Heartland” are going to include hay bales. No news there. Maddow’s blog had a nice photo essay of all the buses, which pointed
    out the contrast in design where yours invited everyone to absorb the
    similarities. Boring! The news, as omen points out below and Maddow hinted at, is that the bus isn’t draped in flags or the constitution, it’s utilitarian – it’ll get him where he wants to go safely. Not to mention, it’s not Obama’s bus, it’s the POTUS’s bus. Why cheapen it with crappy stickers, or a paint job that will cost more money?

    I think the message is: if you want to know what he’s about – or who he is – you’re going to have to listen to him. You’re going to have to work for it, not have it spoon fed to you. In this climate of instant gratification, someone who makes you work to form an impression is annoying, which is amusing considering the admonitions on both sides to wake up and not be sheeple.  

    You said you don’t know who he is from studying his pictures; I say your earlier statement hit the nail on the head. ” I think Obama finds his center-of-gravity primarily by orienting himself to those forces in opposition to him.” That’s who he is, that’s who he advertised himself as, that’s what his speeches this past week are all about. Will the strategy be effective? Despite his approvals going down after the debt fight, he’s still the most popular of all the politicians around, isn’t he? Will it be enough to beat back the crazy on the left and right? I’m not as hopeful as I was 3 years ago.

  • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

    Thanks. Just thought I’d add (via Mike Allen) that the White House just finished a contest to name his bus. Get ready for the stickers.

  • omen

    the bus isn’t draped in flags or the constitution, it’s utilitarian –
    it’ll get him where he wants to go safely. Not to mention, it’s not
    Obama’s bus, it’s the POTUS’s bus. Why cheapen it with crappy stickers,
    or a paint job that will cost more money?

    the problem is, as you mentioned, that obama isn’t getting his message out. it boggles the mind that dems failed to put out images of all the construction work accomplished by stimulus funding. the optics involved in the business of construction is a beautiful thing. we could have ads running before the midterms of bulldozers buzzing around, scaffolding going up, high rise cranes moving steel beams around, etc. reagan had his “morning in america.” obama needs his.

    this bus was yet another lost opportunity. it didn’t have to go cliche with flags and the constitution. it could have been tastefully illustrated with a mosaic all the schools, roads and bridges the stimulus has already funded (something biden pointed out before the midterms,) along with images of all the men and women (cops, teachers, construction workers) whom the stimulus helped to employ. republicans spent two years shamelessly lying that the stimulus has been a complete failure while simultaneously tripping all over themselves taking credit in the local press for projects created by the obama stimulus. if roles had been reversed, republicans wouldn’t have held back in eviscerating dems for the hypocrisy in taking credit for initiatives republicans were responsible for.

    obama and the dems have failed to push back hard against this lie. people don’t want to HEAR what obama has accomplished, they want to SEE it. dems should have run commercials along these lines. instead, they allowed themselves to be cowed, yet again, by the right’s bellicosity. it’s important now more than ever we see the fruits of what obama and the dems have been working towards. optics not only make for beautiful visuals, it would be a great morale booster. seeing visuals of construction happening would help counter this mood of malaise and national decline that the debt ceiling fight exacerbated. it would help restore confidence. we need visual representations that symbolizes the values democrats hold and shows what it is we are willing to fight for.

    we ceded the debt argument to the republicans, you want us to cede the importance of image making to the republicans too? we can’t afford to give up on either the rhetorical or the visual fight.

  • T Perky

    Aw, that’s too bad. I kinda liked the sleek black bus, but I would think it reminds people of the black helicopters or, in movies, the black SUVs with tinted windows. Also, his message has always been “I can’t do it alone,” and getting people involved in something that seems trivial will help people stay involved with the more urgent stuff.

    Thanks for the opportunity for a great discussion. I really do love what you do. 

  • Pastafarian

    Greyhound One is pretty weak. But damn if I can think of an alternative. Pluribus was the best I could come up with. 

    It’s like a Kubrick monolith on wheels. We all know HAL9000 is in charge of Wall St. and the global economy. We suspect that the Democrats think we’re all tapir-bashin’ apes. It’s like the motor conveyance of a death metal band (actually, the company in Canada that made it also makes luxury buses for rock bands). Which isn’t a problem for me personally, provided you slap some volcanoes, lightning bolts, and axe-thrashin’ vipers on there. 

    Actually it reminded me of nothing so much as the armored SUV in which GW Bush cowered for his ‘04 inauguration parade. 

    That’s the problem with winning with, then losing, the youth vote. It gets real hard to come up with kneejerk iconic (iconmnemonic/icomicbook) memes when you have to pitch to grownups. 

    Something tells me that Dem planners/strategists are letting the iconography do it all–the big shiny black thing. I don’t mean that in a cheap/phallic way. But it’s a far cry from the Green Bus of Wellstone or the Blue Van of Feingold (two Senators who drew strong cross-party support). It may be that Mr. Obama can’t do it alone, but if he asked me on board that thing to pitch in, I’d run the other way. 

    And it doesn’t help that we know that somewhere aboard it is The Football. 

    It’s just another example of how at sea the Democrats are. 

  • omen

    it’s a bus darth vader would feel comfortable in.

  • T Perky

    My point is that I think he is getting his message out: stop looking for quick fixes and commit to the long haul. That means organizing, fundraising, working the media, etc. Dem supporters can’t frikkin’ agree on the day’s outrage, much less put together a politically influential coalition like the right has been doing the last 4 decades. Air America Radio tried, but it had bad management and no underlying corporate support or even liberal support to keep it aloft or build on it. While we bicker amongst ourselves, and complain about wingnut welfare, we’re not building that message machine for our side. Liberals may be “live and let live,” right wingers are not. They’re trying to dismantle the little we have left.  As the White Queen said to Alice, “it takes all the running you can do to stay in one place.” We need to stop complaining and start organizing. That’s what I think Obama’s ultimate message is, and he’s right.

    As for showing off the stimulus, he’s mentioned it in every speech I’ve seen him do, but if the media won’t play it, and the lefty blogs won’t report it, and you tell all your friends he messed up, it was too small, how the heck will putting tasteful pictures of teachers and firefighters on a bus get people to notice? We’ve been begging him to talk about jobs, well, he’d doing it now. He’s not waiting for September to roll out the new product. Would you rather stand back and discuss how long it’s taken to start and what a shame he didn’t festoon his bus with firefighters, or would you rather discuss how to get people working again? I’m for the latter, myself.

    And I don’t believe he’s given up the visual fight. After three years of having everything thrown at him, he has sustained the image of the calm, cool adult in room. That’s his brand and it’s a good one in a time of crisis. It makes the contrast with the loons all that much more stark. Let them have the garish, noisy visuals draped in false piety and patriotism. It wouldn’t work for him anyway, and it’s cliche at this point.

  • Pastafarian

    How about the possibility that people are getting increasingly weary of Image, of Visuals, of Branding? At least, the ones that you’d think the Obama camp would be pitching for votes.

  • T Perky

    Weary of Image? In America? Surely you jest. Seriously, there’s a reason McD’s is so popular – people know that no matter where they are in the world, they’ll get the same burger. Branding is as old as time. It used to be called reputation. Just like optics used to be called PR, or photo ops. Also, I’m seeing the new word for selling yourself – retailing – is getting popular. What’s old is new again. 

  • T Perky

    Sometimes, a bus is just a bus. 

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