Monday, November 2, 2009

It's in the Listening, Stupid!

On Drudge tonight, there is a headline that Obama is getting skinny. Things aren't working. His approval ratings are going basically in one direction.

Why aren't things working? "I've got the skill. I know the art. But my smooth-talking isn't making the difference. Why not?"

"It's in the listening, stupid." Things are not working because Obama is not interested in what people are thinking and talking about. He wrongly believes that his power comes from the conversations he is speaking. They do not. He is completely controlled by the listening in the country, and if he is unable to speak into that, he loses the patience of his audience. And that is what is happening.

People are not stupid. Politicians and intellectuals of various types act as if they have some inside knowledge about life. When the government attempts to stimulate growth by borrowing and spending, for example, people know that it doesn't work in their lives so it isn't difficult to question whether this will work on a larger scale. When one loses a job, is it time to go borrow money? Whatever the hole one is in, borrowing money only makes it deeper. Wouldn't it be better to cut expenses, sell some things and create some operating room to produce a value that someone might pay you money for? Debt makes that process harder, logic tells me.

So unless a person is some kind of sycophant or wants to live in fantasy, he's going to be listening for how Obama and his Administration square themselves with reality. If, on the other hand, he hears Obama and his associates driving an agenda and not getting what the people are concerned about, then the people's experience is that they have not been heard and that Obama doesn't care about them.

Any ideas that fall on deaf ears go nowhere. One has to get what the ears want to hear and then his speaking will work wonders. But so far, the O is unwilling to find out what the ears want to hear. So they get more frustrated.

And, essentially, this explains the whole damn thing.

Obama is agenda driven. His powerful intention to push his agenda is what prevents him from hearing people's concerns. He seeks to dispell, even thwart, any attempts to reach him. When over a million people showed up on his lawn on September 12, he left town and acted like no one drove across country to Washington. He should have been down on that mall with his ear to the ground. Is it not clear that Obama is not interested in governing the people - all of them? But rather is scared of them and takes refuge in his toadies?

Reading a tabloid, Obama was reported to be smoking up to 2 packs a day. He's not getting the sleep he needs and is losing weight. He screams at his staff and makes impossible demands. At a recent public meeting a young boy asked, "Mr. President, why do people hate you so much?" Is this the question that is dogging him day and night?

Apparently Beck and Limbaugh are on O's enemies list. Why? He should be listening to them. They definitely do have their ear to the ground and know what is going on. That's why they have huge audiences - the very thing that Obama needs. Hmm. What's wrong with this picture, Mr. O?

Given that Obama is a personality, actually a celebrity personality, I could get why he would be concerned about such a question. As far as I can tell, he's never gotten any of his motivation from being a lawgiver nor a judge nor even a cop. He does like moralizing - those "I will always..." and "I will never..." statements - but his payoff is getting elected. He loves the attention and privilege (hotshot status) that comes with that. That looks to me to be the end of the story.

I don't see a President Obama who is on the side of humanity except in an old-fashioned, old country, anti-American kind of way. He takes sides and wants to take from one and give to another and revel in the power he has over people. He's not showing me any wisdom or even-handedness in the application of the law. He never mentions the subject. In the case of the Boston professor and the cop, he didn't even bother finding out what was going on. Rather, he immediately called the cop stupid and said that it is a known fact that cops profile blacks. This is the kind of thing that undermines the space people have for him. Those on the receiving end of those judgments don't like it and those on the other end get scared, not knowing where that kind of partisanship can lead.

But even with all of the negativity that he has drummed up over the months, he could change that quickly if he wanted. All he would have to do is set aside his agenda and start listening to people and their concerns. Seriously doing that, his solutions would likely start to dance with those concerns.

As it is, he's going to stress himself out and may even crack. If he's a puppet, which increasingly he looks to be, then he is not going to have any room to make adjustments. When Clinton learned this lesson after the Republicans took control of the Congress, he began to have some programs and policies that actually responded to what the country wanted and needed. But until he got the lesson, he was failing. Will Obama learn? Does he have the room to learn? Time will tell us.

Will The O grow? That is the question.

(Since writing this, I've seen two articles on listening. They are posted in the comments section. Perhaps O will begin to grasp this fundamental dynamic in any relationship. If not, the applause is going to thin out, man by man.)


principlex said...

Today is Thursday, November 5. Daniel Henninger posts this editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Another way of understanding this is, a body of concerns in the electorate and no one addressing them.

The Permanent Tea Party

Independent voters have become like a herd of cattle looking for political leadership.

Welcome to the permanent American tea party.

You will recall how when the tea-party movement erupted during the congressional recess in August, it was spun on the left that these events were the creation of conservative ideologues. At the start, yes. By the end, though, it was about anxieties deeper than that.

The GOP is now spinning the results in Virginia and New Jersey as proof that voters are fed up with the liberal ideologues in the White House and Congress. Yes, but it's deeper than that.

What was learned Tuesday is that the American voter is absolutely, totally, unremittingly disgusted with both political parties. More than anything, the American voter is desperate for political leadership.

Meet the new American voter.

That electorates in two politically significant states, led by the widening independent movement, could swing within one year from enthusiasm for electing Barack Obama to support for Virginia's OK Republican Bob McDonnell and New Jersey's lackluster Chris Christie is simply astonishing.

Add another American metaphor to the political landscape: the cattle stampede. Independent voters across the U.S. have become like the massive cattle herd John Wayne drove from Texas to Kansas in "Red River." These voters are spooked and on the run, a political stampede that veered left in November 2008 and now right a mere year later. They will keep running—crushing incumbents, candidates and political models of the left and right—through November 2010 and onto 2012 until they find a person or party capable of leadership appropriate to our unsettled times. And yes, Virginia, the possibility of a man on a white horse in 2012 is not out of the question.

Exit polls in New Jersey and Virginia said the economy was on voters' minds. Unemployment is near 10% and may stay there for a year. But it's deeper than that.

This isn't just another turn in the business cycle. On Sept. 15, 2008, the economic structure of the U.S. imploded. Lehman Brothers, a synonym for the American financial bedrock, filed for bankruptcy. On June 1, 2009, General Motors, once a synonym for American economic primacy, filed for bankruptcy and was effectively nationalized. In the nine months between these two iconic events, the American people were riveted to news of economic distress.

The signal event of the 2008 presidential election was the day in September when Sen. John McCain "suspended" his campaign to deal with the financial crisis. Within 48 hours, his candidacy stood naked. Mr. McCain's instincts were right; The American people wanted leadership. But he didn't have a clue how to provide it. The restless herd ran toward Barack Obama.

Now they're ready to run toward someone else. They just did in New Jersey and Virginia.

(See the next Comment for the continuation of this WSJ column.)

principlex said...


This is not normal. A new American presidency, especially this one, should not be in this much trouble 10 months into a four-year term. Nor would it be if not for the economic events that fell out of September 2008.

Absent the immediate need to steady the credit markets and deal with a deepening recession, the Obama White House would have introduced—and passed—its restructuring of the U.S. health-care system in early spring. Instead, voters watched Congress create and pass a nearly trillion-dollar "stimulus" bill, and then erect the world's tallest national budget—a towering $3.5 trillion. They watched the Obama Treasury, now hard-wired to the Federal Reserve, intervene massively in the structure of the private economy. There was an attempted federal climate-control bill, an attempted expansion of union organizing rights (card check) and second thoughts on free-trade agreements.

Only then, in June, was this hyperactive government able to introduce its health-care proposal—the public option, the remaking of the insurance industry, a 5.4% tax surcharge, the expansion of Medicaid.

After his election, Mr. Obama's strongest attribute was limitless self-confidence. He was a man aglow with knowledge, control and . . . leadership. Now, with the scale and cost of Mr. Obama's ambitions so clear, the question many voters are asking is whether the Obama government's reach exceeds its grasp or abilities—or any government's.

The most acute voters know these are not normal times. The Obama vision so far looks a lot like the social-market economic model of Europe, where leaders such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel give homilies about the "crisis" of capitalism. If American voters then look toward Asia, they see rising economies using capitalism to supplant Europe.

American voters know they've reached a long-term economic tipping point. Which way to go, old West or new East? They understand the challenges are growing while the politicians seem to be shrinking.

So the Republicans "won" Tuesday. Now what?

Just as the Democrats in 2008 ran mainly against "Bush," the Republican political model seems to be to let Democratic failure dump states like New Jersey and Virginia into their control. But I think most voters, no matter their party registration, know that in the past 12 months the stakes for them have suddenly become larger than political "control."

Unless leadership emerges equal to the new world voters see they have fallen into, volatility in America's election returns is going to be the norm for a long time.

Robert said...

Climate Bill passed in the Senate today. This is what you can expect from this Congress. Talk about having disdain for the views of the American public.

principlex said...

The Rose Garden Path

The White House has gotten bad at listening, and now it's paying the price. By PEGGY NOONAN

First thought on Tuesday's elections: There's a lot of firing going on in America, and now that includes politicians. Seems only fair and will likely continue. I don't think voters in New Jersey and Virginia were saying, "Oh the Democrats are awful, and we hate them," nor were they saying, "Republicans are wonderful, and we love them." The voters were being practical, and thinking policy: "Will he raise my taxes?" In Jersey, they fired the incumbent governor because they couldn't imagine the state getting off its current trajectory (high unemployment, high taxes, high spending) with him there. And they're certain they have to get off their current trajectory or they're sunk.

Both states hired new governors. The good news for the GOP is that they hired Republicans. The bad news is that if the Republicans don't make progress, they'll fire them too.

Second, it's too simple to say this was a vote against Obama. Yes, he went to Jersey three times and draped himself like a shawl around the Democratic incumbent. But the crowds showed and nobody booed and everyone had a good time. What happened actually is more interesting. They just didn't listen to him. Mr. Obama told Jersey to vote for Jon Corzine, and they didn't. They don't hate him, they're just not hearing him. That's new. They're warning him: Hey you with the health-care obsession, shape up or you'll get shipped out!


There's a new detachment between the president and the electorate he won a year ago by 9.5 million votes. The reason: In 2009, the Democrats who run the White House and Congress chose to go down one path at the exact moment voters went down a different one. The voters, frustrated and then alarmed, waited to fire the first available Democrat, and this week they did. Mr. Obama carried Democratic Jersey by more than 15 points exactly one year ago. The Democratic governor lost by nearly five points this week. That is a 20-point swing. Mr. Obama won Virginia a year ago by six points. The Democratic candidate for governor lost by more than 18 points. That is a 24-point plummet. (The congressional race in upstate New York was too messy, too local, and too full of jumbly facts to yield a theme that coheres.)

The path the president and the Democrats of Congress chose has been called the big-bang strategy. In January 2009 they had the big mo and could claim a mandate. The strategy was to give their first year to 2008 domestic policy pledges: health-care reform, climate change, empowering unions, etc.

But reality came in and stole the mandate, stopped the mo. The reality is that over the past 10 months the great recession settled in, broadened its presence, and became part of the national landscape. It became the big bad thing for normal people. It became a literal daily threat ("Is Daddy going to lose his job?") that underscored a chronic anxiety. That anxiety is that spending at all levels of government, and the tax demands it will bring and has brought, will make the overall economy worse. If Daddy manages to keep his job in this round of cutbacks, he won't be safe in the next round.

A president has only so much time. Mr. Obama gives a lot of his to health care. But the majority of voters in New Jersey and Virginia told pollsters they were primarily worried about joblessness and the economy. They're on another path, and they don't like the path he's chosen. A majority in a Gallup poll out Wednesday said they now think the president governs from the left, not the middle. The majority did not expect that a year ago.

(Continued in Comment 5)

principlex said...

(Continued from Comment 4)

The president chose promises made before the recession fully took hold, rather than more pressing and pertinent public concerns. In the language of marketing that has become the language of politics he thereby, in his first year, damaged his brand.


Professional politicians say great things after an election this stark, great in the sense that they reveal whether they have a tropism toward truth or a tropism toward . . . let us call it other things, including mindless spin. "We won last night!" Nancy Pelosi crowed. "I think we had a major victory," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) on "Morning Joe." Mika Brzezinski was so delighted by his lurch from reality that she asked him to repeat it, and he did.

Interestingly, the president has said nothing.

Under the heading tropism toward truth we have what Sen. Mark Warner, himself a former Virginia governor, told Politico: "We got walloped."

That was admirably candid. Some party activists said the problem was with Democrats such as Virginia's gubernatorial nominee, Creigh Deeds, not more fully embracing Mr. Obama in their campaigns. White House adviser David Axelrod echoed this to Politico, saying that in previous elections, beleaguered candidates learned that "the history of running away from a president is not very good."

My goodness, throw the drowning man an anvil. This goes beyond loyalty. All White House staffs tend to hypnotize themselves into thinking their greatest asset is the president. George W. Bush's people thought this way too—the guy is magic, associate yourself with him and you'll win big. That's what they told candidates in 2006, when Mr. Bush dragged them down. Most modern White House staffs, no matter who the president, wind up at a point where they're like the men around Stalin. Stalin would give a speech, and his commissars would all wildly applaud. The applause would go on a long time, but it had to end at some point, so Vladimir sitting up front would, in an attempt to be helpful, would stop applauding and sit down. Everyone else would follow. The next week Stalin would give a speech and everything would be the same except Vladimir was no longer in the front row. He was in the gulag. This is how White House staffs come to think: Never be the first one to stop applauding.

Democrats in the House, especially the moderates and so-called blue dogs, really should stop applauding at this point, and signal to the president that he's been handed a gift by the voters: a rough suggestion as to a midcourse correction.

Politico asked if the White House would learn anything through what happened Tuesday, and if a correction was possible. I doubt it. It is odd to see such hard-line tough-guy political players—and that's how they see themselves and in part are—governed, really, by abstractions, by things that look big-time but are actually small-time: our legacy, our greater historical meaning, the Aristotelian purity of getting at least a partial public option established so that it will grow and history will look back and say, "Ah, after 40 years of waiting they delivered what America never had and needed."

Mr. Obama and the House leadership may be too deep into health care to make a shift now and get in line with the American people's concerns. But they should start paying attention to what the people are saying. What happened Tuesday isn't a death knell, but it is a fire alarm: Something's wrong, fix it, change course. Show humility. Bow to the public. "Public opinion is everything," Lincoln is said to have said. It is. It can be changed and it can be shaped, but it always has to be listened to. This White House has gotten bad at listening. It paid the price for that on Tuesday.

Robert said...

One thing I've noticed, particularly about the Dems, is that they would never give their opponents a victory in the area of truth. They think that if they say something, regardless of whether it is true or not, that the majority of Americans will think it is the truth. This is because they think that people are not able to think for themselves.