If I'm reading Peggy Noonan correctly here, President Obama is winning the rhetorical war with Republicans on the fiscal crisis because the whole system is completely and utterly stacked in his favor:
The Republican negotiators, to the extent they are allowed to negotiate, are at a disadvantage in terms of explaining what's at issue. There are a dozen of them, they're lawmakers, they speak the language of legislation, and when they make statements at press gaggles they're not talking to the American people but, inevitably, to the president, his staff and the larger political class. So the higher meaning of things, on the Republican side, seems to have gotten a little lost. In fact at the moment they look like a party that is both obsessed with a thing -- tax rates -- and unable to explain why it's important.Wait -- what? The Republicans have mastered message discipline over the past couple of decades, they control the most-watched cable news channel in America as well as AM talk radio, they have the best-funded think tanks, they dominate the Sunday morning talk shows, and their advocacy of fiscal pain for the non-rich finds wide agreement among self-styled Beltway mainstreamers -- and yet they're the ones who are laboring under a structural handicap in this debate? It's Obama who has it easy?
The president operates under a different dynamic. There's just one of him, he's the chief executive, and he was just re-elected. He's talking not to the Republicans -- that's what Treasury secretaries are for -- but to the American people.
If Republicans aren't talking directly to the American people, what's stopping them? Lack of an appropriate figurehead? Seriously? When they have all these Amigos, all these Young Guns, all these Great 2016 Hopes?
And hasn't Noonan told us repeatedly that Obama is actually a lousy communicator and the American people don't really like him? Here's Noonan just after this year's Democratic convention:
Barack Obama is deeply overexposed and often boring. He never seems to be saying what he's thinking. His speech Thursday was weirdly anticlimactic....Here's Noonan's capsule history of Obama's first term, written days before the election:
It was stale and empty. He's out of juice.
Because he had so much confidence, he thought whatever he did would work. He thought he had "a gift," as he is said to have told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He thought he had a special ability to sway the American people, or so he suggested to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor.So Obama's weakness, according to Noonan in that column, is that he thinks he can go over the Beltway's head and win fights by talking directly to the American public -- but he can't, because he sucks at that. And Obama's strength? Well, as Noonan says today, it's that he can go over the Beltway's head and win fights by talking directly to the American public -- which is his unfair advantage!
But whenever he went over the the heads of the media and Congress and went to the people, in prime-time addresses, it didn't really work. He did not have a magical ability to sway. And -- oddly -- he didn't seem to notice.
It is one thing to think you're Lebron. It's another thing to keep missing the basket and losing games and still think you're Lebron.
And that really was the problem: He had the confidence without the full capability.
Right. Got it. Thanks, Peggy.