Barack Obama is a great writer and orator. But since becoming president, he’s had to focus his attention on a slew of mind-boggling problems. So, except for foreign travel and the occasional campaign-like drive-by into the “heartland” – where he riles up “real people” at fake rallies about healthcare or “fat cat” bankers – he’s holed himself up at the White House with experts.
No question, the dude is working hard, and he’s thinking deeply about how to solve problems (something his predecessor didn’t or couldn’t do). But Obama really needs to reconnect, especially now that his fellow Democrats are falling over themselves trying to explain away the troubling loss of the Kennedy Senate seat in Massachusetts.
As Frank Rich said in his New York Times column this Sunday, “The former community organizer, whose credit card was denied at the Hertz counter during the 2000 Democratic convention, now spends too much time at the White House presiding over board-room table meetings and stiff initiative rollouts instead of engaging with Americans not dressed in business suits.” Rich also says “Obama needs economic spokesmen who are NOT economists and who can authentically speak to life on the ground.”
Maybe it’s time to take a cue from James Cameron and find an avatar. Same face (not blue), same verbal gifts and intelligence but with the connectedness of an FDR. Someone who’s able to speak plainly and passionately, not only about specific policies, but also about the future with a clear-eyed vision of better days ahead — a path that connects discreet policies into a single, long-term narrative that people understand.
Roosevelt called it “The New Deal” when he was elected (and re-elected) in the midst of the Great Depression, and it served him well.
By speaking plainly and often to the public through the high-tech advance of the time, radio, Roosevelt was able to quell fear and anger by giving people a sense that their government was trying very hard to reduce suffering and even raise hopes. Through radio, he was able to create the illusion that the he was having a personal chat with each listener and that he really understood what they were going through.
And he kept it simple. “We’ll try things and if they don’t work, we’ll try something else…” he’d say, reminding Americans that a leader was at the helm.
Yes, Obama’s got a lot on his plate, but our president needs to call up his inner-Roosevelt if he’s going to be effective in the troubling days ahead.