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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama’s Media Blitz Impressive

My concerns about President Obama’s media blitz over-exposing him to ‘gotcha’ questions were unfounded, judging by his effectiveness on three interview programs I watched, Meet the Press (NBC), This Week (ABC) and State of the Union (CNN). He seemed more comfortable and persuasive as an interview subject now than he did as a candidate.
The formats of these three programs were one-on-one interviews with David Gregory, George Stephanopolis and John King respectively — all three of whom were even-handed enough. In addition the President was interviewed only for a portion of each program, 18 minutes, for example, on “This Week.” Although his left critics will not be happy with his flexibility in key issues like the public option, Obama did extraordinarilly-well on nearly all topics, with one exception.
The President did his homework and demonstrated an impressive grasp of the issues regarding current health care reform proposals. He didn’t bristle, calmly but firmly correcting questions based on false assumptions with a friendly spirit, and demonstrated his characteristic ‘cool’ to good effect. Equally importantly and in glaring contrast to his GOP critics, he projected the conciliatory spirit of a leader who was not a rigid ideologue.
Obama did a good job of refusing to be distracted by the efforts of interviewers to get him off on a tangential argument about race, which he called “catnip” for conflict-hungry reporters, or the fuss over ACORN which he pointed out was kind of trifling, compared to the huge issues facing America at the moment. He also called the media to account for sensationalizing debates over serious issues with side-show distractions, stating on CNN that “the easiest way” to get on CNN, FOX and other big media was to “say something rude and outrageous” and telling the MTP host that the media “encourages some of the outliers of behavior.”
He emphasized on MTP (video here) that physicians and nurses support his basic plan and Obama once again extended a bit of an olive branch to the GOP in noting that he was bucking his Party some on tort reform. Regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said he wasn’t one who supports “indefinite occupation of other countries” and that the U.S. must avoid ‘mission creep’ and stay forcused on eliminating al-Qaeda.
But the one comment that I doubt played very well among many viewers was his statement, made on all three programs, that his Administration was still doing an assessment to formulate strategy on Afghanistan. The President correctly pointed out that you don’t commit resources to any major endeavor until the strategy is determined. But he has been in office for 9 months now, and even if there are good reasons for not having his Afghanistan strategy in place, it’s a tough sell. Yes, the public knows that the situation is highly complex, but I doubt he can delay putting a strategy in place much longer without losing support at an accelerating pace.
Afghanistan notwithstanding, health care reform remains the critical issue of the hour, and I think any fair-minded evaluation would have to give him good marks in making his case in the format allotted. I doubt he lost any support in the political center. Although speechifying is still his big edge as a communicator, the President proved he can deliver his message one-on-one as good as any Democrat, and better than most. (HuffPo has video clip highlights of his media blitz.)
Perhaps one measure of President Obama’s effectiveness was how forgettable were the comments responding to his answers in the politician and media pundit circle jerks. On MTP, Rep. John Boehner parroted the conservative sound bites unconvincingly, and Sen. Lindsay Graham was only marginally less carping. The overall impression I was left with was how predictable and nitpicking were their comments. It might have been more interesting to hear responses from a panel of public health experts.

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