More on the Wages of Spin

I published a column today called The Wages of Spin.  It addresses the question of whether the Obama administration has suffered its loss of public confidence due to a poor product (its legislative initiatives) or a poor sales pitch (the public relations effort explaining those initiatives and the (ostensibly) manifold ways in which they benefit the American people.

To which I answer: YES.  The Obama administration has offered a poor product, not because it has not passed momentous legislation but because it has not been the legislation the American people wanted.  And the sales pitch has been grating, often condescending, often stern and lecturing.  Obama has not failed to make a pitch, but he has failed to make it well.  I was never as dazzled as the media told me I should be by Obama’s rhetorical brilliance.  But regardless, when it comes to selling something other than himself, Obama has not been especially winsome or convincing.

But I also answer: NO.  Neither of the above.  The problem has not been the product or the sales pitch.  It has been the salesman himself — partly because the salesman was the product that was sold in the campaign, and yet what was sold to the American people in the campaign is not what was delivered to the American people after the campaign.  I wrote my brother a letter to this effect after Obama was elected.  Obama won the election, but at the cost of setting himself up for inevitable failure.  He won the election by promising the moon and conveying a false image of himself, but this meant that his administration would plummet to earth as the American people learned the truth about him.  Namely, that he is not a transformational figure with transcendent talents but an inexperienced, ordinary politician without any special ideas or solutions.  He does not even really have a governing philosophy.

There is a lesson here for Christian civil servants.  We’ve talked about this before: it is not enough just to say that flights of rhetorical fancy are “politics as usual.”  Obama allowed and encouraged others to see him as a miraculous, even messianic figure.  This was not only unwise.  It was untruthful.  Christian politicians should only promise what they can reasonably deliver.  They should not allow themselves to be seen as saviors.  And they should not use such rhetoric in the election cycle that it will lead inevitably to discouragement and disillusionment in the administration.

I feel as though the Obama camp made a Faustian bargain.  They were willing to say what they had to say in order to win the election, even if it meant setting up the administration for failure — and setting up the American people for discouragement.  A huge number of voters, young voters in particular, would be disillusioned when they discovered they had been duped.  Yet the Obama folks were willing to pay that price.  The ends justified the means.

Please read the column to get the rest, and feel free to leave comments there or here.  Thanks!

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  • Doug (your brother)

    For all the affection he bears you, your brother has not been substantially disappointed with the president and would still vote for Obama over McCain any day.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      And you’re not alone, brother. But the statistics show a pretty large constituency for disappointment and disillusionment, and I think this is a large part of the reason why. The rhetoric was irresponsible — even the campaign itself. Some campaigns make it easier to win but more difficult to govern. This was a good example.