You can’t win an election without a coherent message. Obama, despite his administration’s genuine achievements, didn’t have one. The good news — for him, if not necessarily a straitened country — is that the G.O.P. doesn’t have one either.OK, I guess I need some help. Clearly, Barack Obama could not have won the midterm elections, since he didn't have a message. Never mind that he wasn't actually a candidate. Never mind that if you actually listen to just Barack Obama's speeches (and I heard a few over the campaign, with sound bites from quite a few more), it sure did sound to me as if he did have a coherent message (it had something to do with ditches, and "D" for going forward). I'll grant Rich both of those. Fine; Obama and the Democrats could not have won the elections.
Except...apparently, Republicans didn't have a message either, and so they could not have won the midterms. Now, again, I don't know what counts as "coherent" other than to say that the GOP "Pledge" probably didn't rise to that standard, but I did see quite a lot of other Republican rhetoric, and the Pledge and Glenn Beck notwithstanding, much of it was, in my view, quite coherent (not an actual program for governing, but coherent, nonetheless). But again -- I'm happy to give Rich this one, if he wants it.
I suppose that everyone has seen by now that there's a bit of a problem. I mean, the Libertarians may well have had a coherent message (that, I don't know about), but I'm pretty sure they didn't win. Mostly, Republicans won. Coherent message or not. Perhaps, and I'll go out on a limb on this one, the idea that no one can win without a Rich-certified coherent message is, uh, a pile of crap.
I mean, really, I read the whole of the damn op-ed waiting for the kicker, in whcih he would reveal why the seeming contradiction he set up at the beginning was really not a contradiction after all. Column writing 101, right? But no; he just keeps going without paying any attention to the obvious nonsense he's babbling on about.
Speaking of which: Rich lets us know that it was a disaster for Obama to go to India because, he assures us, "optics matter." To which I'd just say: how? In what way? And, why is it necessarily bad "optics" (ugh; what a word) to do a foreign tour? Seems to me it's a pretty good way for a president to...do I really have to say it...look, uh, Presidential. (Look Presidential? Optics!).
Meanwhile there's actual substance involved in governing, which does mean that presidents sometimes travel abroad. Broader point: most of Obama's mistakes, and probably all of the mistakes that have really mattered (to the economy, and therefore, to elections) have been mistakes of substance.
Instead of calling Obama on whatever real mistakes he's made (hint: Tim Geithner's tax troubles? Not an important mistake), Rich substitutes a Mr. Smith (or perhaps Jed Bartlet) fantasy:
He could call the Republicans’ bluff by forcing them to fill in their own blanks. He could start by offering them what they want, the full Bush tax cuts, in exchange for a single caveat: G.O.P. leaders would be required to stand before a big Glenn Beck-style chalkboard — on C-Span, or, for that matter, Fox News — and list, with dollar amounts, exactly which budget cuts would pay for them. Once they hit the first trillion — or even $100 billion — step back and let the “adult conversation” begin!OK, boys and girls, a piece of week-old candy for the first one who can figure out a way for John Boehner to get out of this flawless trap. Don't everyone raise their hands at once! Alright, you over there in the third row. That's right! All Boehner has to do is write "the taxes pay for themselves" and, well, we're all back to bickering again. Hell, Boehner could just write "Eliminate earmarks" and everyone over on Fox News would applaud, regardless of whether that would pay for a single dollar of tax cuts.
Amazing how difficult these things are when Aaron Sorkin doesn't get to write the dialogue for both sides.
But of course, governing isn't about saying the perfect thing that forces the opposition to give up and admit you've bested them, anyway. Nor, for that matter, is campaigning. Mr. Smith is a pernicious myth, not a guide to how to succeed in politics.
Meanwhile, there's nothing -- absolutely nothing -- about this White House's communications strategy, or mastery of "optics" that a little good economic news can't cure. I'll give Matt Yglesias the final word:
Back when Republicans were unpopular because of the poor economy in late 2008, Barack Obama’s calm demeanor amidst economic crisis was said to be key to his popularity. Then when Democrats became unpopular because of the poor economy in late 2009, Barack Obama’s calm demeanor amidst economic crisis was said to be the key to his unpopularity. But if the economy improves, then conventional wisdom about every single aspect of Obama’s personality and policy agenda will pivot around that fact. With the economy in the dumps, the health care bill is liberal overreach. If the economy improves, the health care bill will be said to demonstrate the genius of pushing a moderate proposal with no public option. Just you wait.