President Obama said something quite bizarre in his interview with CBS's Charlie Rose yesterday. He said he needed to stop fixating on policy to work harder on messaging and explaining himself. This is quite an indictment of the media, which have labored mightily to create the spaces for him to explain himself and to boost his life story and personal qualities. Remember that in his first three years, Obama granted 408 sit-down interviews, well beyond his two immediate predecessors.
On CBS This Morning, political analyst John Dickerson asserted "this is a little bit of a humble brag. This is a little bit of, I was so busy doing my job, I didn't talk about it." Dickerson presented Obama with the notion that maybe people understand your policy, and don't like it:
So, the question, though, is whether it's the policies or the packaging, and for a lot of critics, this will sound like, you know, we heard you; we know exactly what you're doing; and we don't like what you're doing. And the President talks about stories, but nothing tells a story like success. And so, you know, in his defense -- and there will be plenty of Obama supporters who would say, yes, this is the problem. He's done all these great things, but how do they get through?
So, the real question, at the end of the day, is how much can a president communicate? You know, in campaigns, you talk, but it's in a very different way than the way you talk in office. And the question is whether a president can actually do that much as a communicator. He has a great megaphone, but it can only takes him so far. And, at the end of the day, it may be that presidents just have to do what they're going to do, and recognize that they're going to take a hit, and you can't tell a good story to fix it.
This is the laugh line from Obama: "The mistake of my first couple of years was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that's important. But, you know, the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people."
If Obama truly did not understand the importance of a narrative, then his party could punish themselves for electing someone this incredibly naive. This isn't a humble brag so much as an elaborate deception. Obama knows he can't sell the economic facts on the ground, so he's trying to express he'll work harder at listening and communicating, as if that will create jobs or economic growth.