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Obama's got his midterm mantra down, so why isn't anybody listening?

October 28, 2010 |  3:44 am

Democrat president Barack Obama in the door of Air Force One on a recent campaign trip

As usual, the Washington-wise Howard Kurtz has produced another cogent analysis of communications in the nation's capital -- "White House goes into bunker mode."

According to Kurtz over at his new Daily Beast online domicile, as the S.S. Obama cruises toward its midnight rendezvous with a gigantic electoral iceberg on Nov. 2, the president's communications aides are running around on deck, frustrated that their alternative storyline isn't gaining traction in the cacophonous world of modern political babble.

It's like "spitting in the ocean," White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer complains to Kurtz.

There can't be more than two or three breathing Americans who haven't heard ...

... Obama's economy storyline several times by now: You know, about the eight years of failed you-know-whats by you-know-who, about the huge hole Obama inherited after spending $750 million of other people's money to buy responsibility for the presidency and how the national ship isn't sinking as fast as it was 22 months ago. Never mind all those new 0's on the national debt. And the still missing Recovery Summer. And Guantanamo. And DADT.

And who crashed the national car into the ditch? And who wants the keys now? And who has to get in the back seat? And something about a Slurpee, moving forward?

In fact, there's a little-known theory that Osama bin Laden isn't hiding in a Waziristan cave for fear of American attacks, but to avoid exposure to Obama's economy yada-yada even one more time.

Obama has several problems. The worst is he's the Real Good Talker.

That's how he made his first national splash at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, as the Real Good Talker. That's been his strong suit, thanks to Teleprompters that enable him to read the words while focusing more on delivery. Like some MLB pitcher going to his trademark fastball way too often.

To put it bluntly, it's arrogance. Prof. Obama is so sure that he's right -- and, therefore, so is his insular staff -- that he keeps on talking full speed because if he just explains his thinking one or two or 30 more times using the same metaphors and jokes, even the dimmest of his pupils is bound to get it. And to realize that what they thought they wanted isn't really what their president knows they need.Democrat president Barack Obama peers out of an Oval Office window

That's why last year Obama wasted 59, as in nearly five dozen, town hall meetings selling his colossal healthcare bill to the public and to dozens of Democratic House members, who are now inching fatalistically forward in the sad line toward Tuesday's political firing squads.

For 22 months of the Obama Era now, frightened Americans have been watching their friends, families and neighbors lose the onetime givens in American life -- jobs, homes, savings, spouses and hope.

And they've been telling every pollster and reporter and Republican, "It's the economy, Mr. President." And until the last few weeks the president's response has been, "No, it's not, stupid."

American voters are never the most attentive. Through most waking hours, they collect fragments of information from an amazing array of sources -- TV, online, radio, co-workers, cellphones, family, neighbors.

Again without paying attention, over time those bits and pieces coagulate into an impression. And once that impression sets, it's like a deep grass stain impervious to even New, Improved Tide, regardless of verity. Was Gerald Ford clumsy? Is George W. Bush smart? Does Bill Clinton have an eye for ladies?

Despite all his Great Society social legislation, Lyndon Johnson paid for the nation's impression of the awful Vietnam War and the searing social poison that spread everywhere back home. Richard Nixon denied he was a crook, but that same public wasn't buying it by then.

The other night, David Letterman said he woke up that morning, went to let the dog out, but instead found an uninvited Obama in the backyard talking about the economy. And millions laughed, revealing they shared the same set impression about the predictably tireless talker just weeks before the midterm elections that will be a referendum on him.

And that impression is that Obama may be a Real Good Talker. But he's a Real Bad Listener.

In Kurtz's credible scenario, the vast diversity of competing info sources has diminished the presidential bully pulpit such that the chief executive has to shout to be heard. Every few hours Obama or Mrs. Obama or Joe Biden or Mrs. Biden leave carbon footprints all over the country making the same tardy case to choirs of supporters who are, by definition, already convinced.

If Obama visits Ohio much more, he'll need a driver's license. He'll be back there again and elsewhere this weekend, demanding of crowds, "Are you fired up?" As someone's father once said, "When everyone around you is shouting, the way to be heard is a whisper."

As inattentive as they are, American voters can also be very forgiving of contrite politicians.

After soundly spanking a liberal Clinton in his first midterms by delivering both houses of Congress to the GOP for the first time in four decades, voters watched that savvy former governor run back to the middle of the road that he had originally promised. And two years later, in 1996, those voters eagerly reelected him over another old white Republican legislator.

Though their ranks are much thinner now, Obama's surviving supporters should hope that he focuses on the defeats next Tuesday, not a few slim successes. And that he finally listens to the same civics lesson as Clinton heard 16 years ago. Judging from the differing personalities of the engaging Arkansan chief executive and the aloof Illinois legislator, that may be a vain hope, however.

When's the last time you heard someone from Harvard admit they were wrong?

(UPDATE: Thomas Lifson over at the aptly-named American Thinker sends along this update on his own career confession.)

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press; Pete Souza / White House.

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