Tag Archives: President Obama

The Unfortunate State of the Union

Three Branches Separate, but Definitely not Equal 

I hope you all had the opportunity to catch the State of the Union on Wednesday.  If you frequent my blog, I assume you take interest in such things.  However, if you found yourself otherwise engaged watching reruns of Snooki getting knocked out on Jersey Shore, I’ll fill you in on what happened (and if you’d like the chance to watch it yourself, I’ve provided the entire speech in the video below).  Teaser: a replay of Obama’s swipes at the judiciary is equally entertaining, although admittedly less violent.  

 There was a clear focus in the 71-minute address (sixth longest in presidential history): jobs.  Obama proposed an agenda that would key in on economic growth, development of green technologies and business practices, and tax incentives to companies willing to invest in the economy –all centered on creating jobs.  Unemployment overwhelmingly dominated the early part of his speech (approximately 30 minutes), a move that seemed to please the conservative base that has eagerly awaited a shift away from healthcare. 

Speaking of healthcare, it was addressed…briefly.  Despite the issue’s pithy treatment, Obama did state that if Congress will not work to modify the healthcare system in America, he’ll consider invoking his executive power to see that changes are made. 

Now it’s getting personal

Obama addressing Congress with the State of the Union

Courtesy of the New York Times

He addressed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, promising to repeal the 1993 policy that forbids homosexuals from serving in the military.  He also addressed what he termed “the deficit of trust,” and had strong words for a legislature that just can’t seem to get along.  Rather than summarize, I’ll let Obama do the talking. 

“We face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics.” 

“Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time for something new.” 

“We have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years.” 

If you think Obama sent a strong message to the legislative branch, just wait until you hear what he had to say to the Supreme Court justices seated directly in front of him. 

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our election,” said Obama. 

He continued “Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill to correct some of these problems.” 

Talk about a hung jury

Obama’s assertion ruffled the, well…ruffles adorning the robes of a few of the justices; most noticeably scathed was Justice Samuel Alito, who broke the centuries old tradition of Supreme Court stone-faced detachment during the address to noticeably mouth the words “that’s not true.”  

Now if you haven’t already received a Facebook group invite asking you to join “Team Obama” or “Team Alito,” then allow me the opportunity to persuade you before you choose. 

Much to the surprise of no one, Fox News immediately described Obama’s actions as reprehensible and unprecedented.  This opinion is based on the principle that Supreme Court justices are appointed for life in order to facilitate an environment where their decisions are uninfluenced by outside political actors who could theoretically hold them accountable for making an unpopular decision.  Traditionally, Justices go through a rigorous appointment process that makes a CIA background check look like 10-question survey.  After they’re approved, they’re on until they retire or die

Here’s where I have a beef with that logic.  Our Constitution created three “separate but equal” branches of government that would act as watchdogs in case one of the branches decided to go rogue.  This system was adopted from political theorist John Locke, who first described it in his Two Treatises of Government

Our adoption of Locke’s theory required that we account for political influence and, sadly, corruption.  The branch that protected the Constitution was the easiest target, and thus, became the only branch that is unimpeachable/un-punishable.  I have no problem with that. 

What I take issue with is the argument that their decisions cannot be criticized when, as was the case in this instance, personal political agendas dictate the course of the Court proceedings.  The Court approached the plaintiffs and asked to rehear the case nine months ago, an extremely activist move that is almost unheard of in the annals of Supreme Court history.  The 5-4 ruling essentially allows corporations the unlimited right to fund campaigns, even with stockholder shares, creating a scenario where your investments in a company could potentially be used to fund the campaign of a politician you don’t support. 

The audacity of equality

U.S. Supreme Court

courtesy of academic.regis.edu

Regardless of my feelings about the specifics of the case, the fact remains that the Supreme Court is being held in higher regard than either of the other two branches.  Critics say Obama was rude to call out the justices who were in attendance as Obama’s guests.  Does that mean the Congress should be untouchable as well?  He sure was critical of them, and supposedly, they’re on the same plane as the Supreme Court.  Does that mean Congress can’t criticize the President? 

By the way, this isn’t the first time a President has been critical of a Supreme Court decision during his State of the Union address as some would have you believe, including columnist Mary Kate Cary of U.S. News and World Report. 

“Imagine if Ronald Reagan had given a State of the Union address and turned to the justices in the front row to say that Roe v. Wade had been wrongly decided. Unlike this time, I don’t think the Democrats in the chamber would have stood and applauded.” 

Unfortunately, Ms. Cary, Reagan did just that in both 1984 and 1988, criticizing the Supreme Court for its rulings on prayer in school and Roe v. Wade.  You can find his comments in full at mediamatters.org.

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Obama’s Approval Rating Slips Below 50 Percent

I’ll tell you why that’s a good thing

Last week, President Obama’s approval rating slipped below 50 percent in the Gallup poll for the first time since he took office, making him the third-fastest president to fall below that bar since World War II.  Ford did it in his third month, Clinton in his fourth, and Reagan in his tenth.  I challenge anyone to argue that these men were unpopular presidents.

Long term perspectives were seldom considered by our reactionary media this week as pundits and commentators responded to Obama’s falling numbers.  Some fated him to a failed presidency.  Another argued that his numbers will “make re-election an uphill struggle.”  Susan Page of USA Today reported that others are still willing to give Obama some time to deliver on the promises he made from the campaign trail, but “not too much more.”

Only one article that I came across seemed to get it right; Domenico Montanaro, NBC News political reporter, had this to say:

“Three, taking George W. Bush out of the equation due to 9/11, every president who has ended up winning re-election since 1980 saw his approval rating drop below 50% in his first year. Moral of the story: If your goal is to get re-elected, it’s better to have your political struggles early (Clinton, Reagan) rather than later (Bush 41). Kind of like a college football season, right? Better to lose early than late. So be careful what you read into what Obama’s approval rating right now means for his presidency. There’s really no correlation between how quickly a president’s poll numbers drop and the overall success of his presidency.”

I would have to take issue with Montanaro on one component of his argument.  He proposes that there is no correlation between dropping poll numbers and presidential success, but I would argue that dropping poll numbers early in a presidency foretell future success.  Seems to defy logic, right?  I’ll explain.

If at first you don’t succeed, be sure to fail

Ronald Reagan addresses Congress

Clinton and Reagan are good examples to use, especially since they represent opposite political ideologies.  When Reagan assumed office, he shocked the political system by powering through his Republican agenda and overhauling the financial system all within his first year.  His popularity took a hit at first, but change, especially drastic change, is a taste acquired over time.

courtesy of blognetnews.com

Clinton provoked a similar stir when he signed the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 and adopted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy during his first year in office.  His numbers fell too, but rebounded once people realized he was getting things done.  These significant government reforms made people uneasy at first, which explains both men’s fallen poll numbers.  Both resurged, however, when the public realized these presidents were willing to act and actively address the problems facing our country.

Nobody trusts a rookie to catch the ball

Don’t confuse long-term action with inaction.  Too many critics are blasting Obama for sitting on his hands and doing nothing.  This is simply not true.  Since taking office, Obama has:

  • Pushed relentlessly for the adoption of landmark health care legislation even in face of almost unanimous Republican opposition in both houses of Congress and resistance from Blue Dog Democrats as well
  • Banned the use of “harsh interrogation,” and ordered the closing of the Guantánamo Bay Prison
  • Repealed Bush’s environmental legislation that re-allowed industrial plants to pollute waters with previously banned toxins, among other things
  • Signed the $787 billion dollar stimulus bill
  • Announced American withdrawal from Iraq
  • Repealed bans put in place by Bush that disallowed federal funding for stem-cell research
  • Introduced the incredibly successful “Cash for Clunkers” and “First-Time Homeowners” rebates that economists are crediting as having helped facilitate our economic recovery

Take a deep breath, relax… and ignore O’Reilly

These are just a few of the more notable things Obama has done in his eight months in office, but you rarely see them mentioned in news stories.  That’s because Fox News is too busy covering the developing “bow-gate” scandal and O’Reilly is seriously contemplating whether or not Obama is Lucifer with Lou Dobbs.

Good public relations in the presidency require that you have a product to promote.  In order to have something to promote, you have to introduce social and governmental reform, and that change agitates the public.  This unease will pass, and eventually we will realize that Obama’s strategy is right on point.  Considering the fact that Bush’s approval rating fell from 91 percent in his first year to 22 percent when he left office, I think a slow start really is best.

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Chamber’s Attack on Green has Some Members Seeing Red

As if Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t enough, President Obama has engaged in yet another war, and this one might be felt a little closer to home. Obama’s foe?  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Logo

Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, announced plans to spend $20 million annually for several years on a public relations campaign.  The campaign aims to discredit much of the Democrats’ agenda while promoting less regulation and other free-market principles.  This is the largest PR campaign in the organization’s history.

Donohue’s fervor, however, seems to have overcome reasonable judgment in his zeal to lead the charge against the Obama agenda.  The Chamber has adopted extreme stances that seem to defy conventional beliefs.  One of the more controversial examples is the Chamber’s official stance on global warming and environmental legislation.

Global warming ain’t all that bad…

Donohue maintains that the scientific data suggesting that global warming is the result of carbon emissions is, in fact, insufficiently researched.  He has tried to undercut environmental policy initiatives and has engaged in efforts to fight tougher air-quality laws.  He has also taken a positive view of global warming—if it does indeed exist– by claiming it could reduce the number of deaths related to cold weather.

The Chamber’s actions have evoked some unintended consequences.  Many member firms disagree with the Chamber’s official stance on these issues and have been forced to reconsider their membership in the organization.  Several notable firms have already left the group, including Nike Inc., Apple Inc., and Duke Energy Corp., claiming the Chamber’s overly partisan initiative does not resonate with their companies’ principles. Donahue vehemently maintains that he is unfazed by his critics.

Thomas Donohue

“One thing I can tell you: They can go out and chase me and chase the Chamber and put stuff in the newspaper. It only . . . drives more and more support. . . . You think we are going to blink because a couple of people are out shooting at us? Tell ’em to put their damn helmets on.”

Read the Wall Street Journal article here

“They’ve put Main Street business in a precarious place by taking a position that’s not credible and doesn’t allow them to shape legislation to their members’ benefit,” said James Rogers, chief executive of electric utility Duke Energy Corp, claiming that the Chamber has adopted an “over the top” stance on climate issues.  Duke Energy supports legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions, which is seemingly counterintuitive, considering that Duke Energy is the country’s third-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.

Presidential perk #1: You make the rules

The Washington Post reported on Oct. 20 that the feud between Obama and the Chamber has escalated as a result of proposed health-care reforms.

“Instead of working through the Chamber, President Obama has reached out to business executives, meeting repeatedly with small groups of CEOs in his private White House dining room. He also has dispatched top aides Valerie Jarrett and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to corporate boardrooms.”

The article continues to suggest that “Obama is attempting to rewrite the rules of the game in Washington” by circumventing the Chamber when dealing with business related policies.  It is the aggregation of several extreme views promulgated by the Chamber’s PR campaign that has put the organization in the precarious position of potentially becoming marginalized.

It’s not all about you, Donohue

It seems that Donohue failed to take into account the most basic tenet of public relations before launching his campaign – you have to relate to your public. Donohue did not consider the views of the companies his organization represents.  A successful campaign must focus on representing the client and appealing to the values and needs of its target public.

In this case, Donohue so disregarded generally accepted ideas in a blatant effort to oppose Administration policies that he sacrificed credibility, losing the support of several Chamber members in the process.  Organizations must consider the negative ramifications of their public relations efforts before engaging in a campaign. Seeing how this battle is playing out in the media, it won’t be long before Donohue reigns in the troops and raises a white flag.

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Fall From Grace: Say Goodbye to Decorum in D.C.

There is a disturbing trend sweeping over America. We’ve required our mainstream media to cater to our communal attention deficit, which has devalued the quality of our news. If you can’t fit your story into a 30-second clip complete with an explosion, murder, or sex scandal, we don’t want to know about it. That’s why a man named Joe Wilson so prominently dominated the headlines for weeks by uttering two simple words: “You lie.”


Few knew Wilson prior to September 9. He was a largely unheralded politician from South Carolina, whose greatest accomplishment to date had been assuming the role of Assistant Republican Whip. But Wilson made a dubious name for himself when he interrupted President Obama’s health care address to Congress, violating parliamentary procedure and general House decorum. Yet the aftermath of the incident has not been all that bad for Wilson, and it has been nothing short of fantastic for the Republican Party. Here’s where we tie this story into PR.

Sound Byte Over Substance

Unless you saw the actual speech, you would have no way of knowing that Obama addressed the Joint Session of Congress for about 45-minutes. That’s because every internet clip and news story covering the event has used the same two-minute video package that shows Wilson interrupting the president. What you don’t see is any coverage, commentary, or analysis on the actual content of Obama’s speech.

As a public relations student, I’ve always been encouraged to find an original approach to getting people’s attention. A standard press release accompanied with a photo package is simply too vanilla these days – it lacks the “wow” factor. For some perspective, let’s assume at this point that the Democratic PR strategy since Obama took office has been vanilla, and the Republican approach has been a rich, chocolate fudge.

Doing Whatever it Takes

Republican officials and party advocates have conducted themselves in ways that defy common decency in government. And it seems to be working. That’s because the party has people willing to take the fall in order to make the news. We’re taught in PR that every strategic approach must be focused around your key message. The Republicans have perfected theirs (universal health care bad; private health care good), while the Democrats are still trying to figure out where they stand on a public option. This Republican consensus has enabled its members to respond to any reporter with a set party line. Despite having fewer members in Congress, their message resonates much louder in the media.

That’s why outrageous demonstrations by party activists are welcomed by the Republicans. On August 17, a man known simply as “Chris” decided that Obama’s health care speech to veterans was an appropriate forum to protest Obama’s gun policy by carrying an assault rifle and handgun.

"Chris" carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle at Obama speech

"Chris" carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle at Obama speech

Although Chris is a libertarian, the Republicans used the incident as a launching pad to say “not only does Obama want to take your health care…he wants your guns too.” What response did we get from the Democrats? (Insert chirping cricket soundtrack)

Turning the Other Cheek Just Hurts Both Cheeks

When conservative Fox News broadcaster Glenn Beck rallied the ultra right, uniting them under the guise of an unwieldy, motley “tea party” that traveled the country in protest of pretty much everything, did you see any response from the Democrats? (Nancy Pelosi trying to make a frowning face when asked to comment about it doesn’t count).

Plain and simple, old politics doesn’t work. Gone are the days of spiffy white wigs and traditional etiquette. Obama has begged the media not to use its airwaves as a forum for rudeness.

“I think it’s important for the media — you know, not to do any media-bashing here — to recognize that right now, in this 24-hour news cycle, the easiest way to get on CNN or FOX or any of the other stations, MSNBC, is to say something rude and outrageous… You know, part of what I’d like to see is, is all of us reward decency and civility in our political discourse.”

Read the full article here

Stand Up on Your Hind Legs and Bray

Again, that would be splendid, but it just won’t happen. The Democratic Party needs to figure out where it stands on health care now, and start getting the media’s attention. And when these stories arise concerning gun-toting extremists and rude politicians, have an actual response. The most dangerous two word sentence in PR is not “you lie”… it’s “no comment.”

By the way, Joe Wilson was wrong. Factcheck.org determined Obama was telling the truth when he said his healthcare plan will not cover illegal immigrants. But that hasn’t kept campaign contributors from donating more than $2 million to Wilson since the incident.

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