Slug the Obama Story ‘Disconnect’

Obama and the public are on different pages, if not different in books.

by Peggy Noonan
The Wall Street Journal
January 15, 2010

The first thing I learned in journalism is that every story has a name. At WEEI News Radio in Boston, the editor would label each story with one word, called a “slug,” and assign a writer to write it for air. This week’s devastating earthquake would be slugged “Haiti.” A story about a gruesome murder might be “Nightmare.”

We’re at the first anniversary of the inauguration of President Barack Obama, and the slug, the word that captures its essence, is “Disconnect.”

This is, still, a surprising word to use about the canny operatives who so perfectly judged the public mood in 2008. But they haven’t connected since.

There is a disconnect, a detachment, a distance between the president’s preoccupations and the concerns of the people. There’s a disconnect between his policy proposals and the people’s sense, as expressed in polls, of what the immediate problems are.

I’m not referring to what is being called the president’s rhetorical disconnect. In this criticism, he is not emotional enough when he speaks, he doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, he is aloof, like a lab technician observing the movements within a petri dish called America. It may be true that this doesn’t help him, but so what? In a successful presidency, his cool demeanor would be called an interesting facet, not a problem. And we don’t really need presidents to move us, when you think about it. We need them to lead, and in the right direction…

…You want a competent chief executive with a deep and shrewd sense of the people. Americans want him to be on the same page as they are. But he’s on a different page, and he may in fact be reading a different book. Thus the latest Quinnipiac poll, which puts his approval/disapproval at a descending 45% to 45%. Pure hunch: The approval number is probably slightly high because people don’t want to disapprove of their new president—the stakes are so high!—and don’t like telling pollsters they disapprove of him.

The real story is that his rhetorical and iconic detachment are harped on because they reflect a deeper disconnect, the truly problematic one, and that is over policy. It doesn’t really matter how he sounds. It matters, in a time of crisis, what he does. That’s where the lack of connection comes in.

The people are here, and he is there. The popularity of his health-care plan is very low, at 35% support. Someone on television the other day noted it is as low as George Bush’s popularity ratings in 2008.

Yet—and this is the key part—the president does not seem to see or hear. He does not respond. He is not supple, able to hear reservations and see opposition and change tack. He has a grim determination to bull this thing through. He negotiates each day with Congress, not with the people. But the people hate Congress! Has he not noticed?

The people have come alive on the issue of spending—it’s too high, it threatens us! He spends more…

Noonan’s article continues at WSJ.

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