As Poll Numbers Decline, White House Won't Ditch Permanent Campaign

December 8th, 2009 11:13 AM
The Obama presidency is, for better or worse, the most media saturated administration in the nation's history. Due at least in part to revolutionary changes in the sharing of information, but equally abetted by the president's media-hungry personality and style of governing, Obama's face is just about everywhere these days.

And Americans have noticed. In an attempt to land a spot on a DC-based reality show, the so-called state dinner party-crashers, the Salahis, went where they knew the cameras would be: the White House.

The Obama administration has pursued a relentless media strategy by trumpeting the president on traditional and new media outlets at every opportunity. It's tech-savvy staff has allowed the president to market his message to a wide range of demographics. The strategy was a cornerstone of Obama's presidential campaign, and he has adopted it as a style of governing.

In doing so, according to New York Times reporter David Carr, "the Obama administration may be guilty of a very contemporary common offense: Oversharing." His silver tongue and charismatic appearance served him well during the campaign, but appearances and reassurances do not solve problems, and he may be wearing out his charm.

President Obama has adopted a permanent campaign of sorts. As Carr notes,
The White House, something of an imperial palace under President Bush, has become the most camera-infested place since “Big Brother.” Oprah Winfrey was there last week with a giant camera crew in tow, chatting with the first couple and taking in the Christmas decorations.

She and the first lady shared the cover of her magazine back in April, not to be confused with the Vogue cover Michelle Obama did back in March. Mrs. Obama will also be starring in an episode of “Iron Chef” this January and has already done a live shot for Jay Leno from the White House.
While promoting the president and his agenda in the news media is all well and good, Carr adds, doing so excessively may create "the impression that the leader of the free world is part of a milieu that is more TMZ than C-SPAN."

The personality-based presidency, in contrast to the policy-based presidency, would explain the discrepancy between the president's personal approval ratings, and the lower approval ratings given his policies. According to Rasmussen, Americans disapprove of health care reform plans currently languising in Congress by a 51-41 percent margin. But 50 percent of Americans approve of the president himself, also according to Rasmussen, while 49 percent disapprove.

While Americans do not generally favor Obama's policy priorities, many still approve of him as a president. This is a symptom of the media saturation surrounding his administration. While he does things that Americans generally do not like, he is a very likable person, and attempts to leverage his personality though new and traditional media, ideally channeling it into legislative success (though this last step has yet to bear fruit).

The perpetual media blitz can only do so much, however, and Obama's personal approval ratings have plummeted from the astronomical highs he saw upon entering office. But even given the steady decline in poll numbers since January, the administration's strategy has not changed.

Television executive Michael Hischorn told Carr, "now that he is in office, there is a danger of the mystique going away. The problem with social media and constant video is that it flows like water and reduces everything to the same level. Not much of it is special, and it all becomes content, even if it’s the president."

"It becomes like weather reports, just another of many messages from the president," said Lawrence O'Donnell, an MSNBC analyst and writer and producer for the hit TV drama "The West Wing."

The strategy was extremely effective during the campaign, and future campaigns will model their new media platforms on Obama's success. But the president needs to stop campaigning and start governing. He needs to stop talking about doing things and actually do them. He needs to get off TV and get some work done.

A sycophantic White House press corps has more than likely contributed to this media saturation by hanging on the president's every word. Since the campaign, the news media have gushed over candidate and president Obama. His silver tongue captured the attention of the nation's reporters, and many, most notably MSNBC's Chris "thrill up my leg" Matthews, have been open about their reverence for the president.

It can be tough to figure out where the press corps's coverage ends and the president's media blitz begins. It's all been presented to the American people 24/7 since Obama's candidacy in the most comprehensive media coverage of an elected official in the nation's history. The question is not whether Obama can keep it up. He can't--as the polls, and now the media critics demonstrate. The question is what he will do when his personal charm wears off.