Thursday, September 1, 2011

Perception is Reality (Or why President Obama should not have moved his speech)

I would like to thank Guy for inviting me to contribute to Colored Demos, which is a wonderful and insightful contribution to the blogosphere that I follow regularly.  I am looking forward to having great exchanges about a variety of issues. 

For my first post, I want to talk about President Obama’s capitulation---yes, capitulation---to House Speaker John Boehner about the date for President Obama’s joint address to both houses of Congress.  President Obama originally wanted to give the speech on September 7th, but moved the speech to September 8th after Speaker Boehner balked at the date.  I have no doubt in my mind that President Obama viewed the date change as small potatoes compared to the bigger issues that are on his plate, but the reality is that President Obama looked weak when he moved the date of his speech.  And appearing weak in one area will unfortunately filter into the public’s perception of how effective the president is in other areas.  The “showdown” over the date was not small potatoes because in the grand scheme of things, it looked like the President had acceded (yet again) to John Boehner’s wishes.   

Looking like a poor negotiator has been a reoccurring problem in the Obama presidency.  When President Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all Americans instead of limiting it to individuals making less than $250,000, Speaker Boehner came out on top.  Similarly, after President Obama agreed to massive spending cuts with no tax increases in order to raise the debt limit, John Boehner boasted that he got 98% of what he wanted while most Democrats remain angry about the agreement.  The reality is that extending the Bush tax cuts to everyone kept a struggling middle class from seeing a tax increase and the deal over the debt ceiling saved our country from default, but the perception is that President Obama looked like a poor negotiator and a weak leader by giving into Republican demands.  Unfortunately, changing the date of his joint address does little to erode this perception of weakness.   

It appears that President Obama has forgotten the number one rule of politics: perception is reality.  This rule is why negative campaigning is so effective.  It is also why politicians engage in so much posturing and tell half-truths.  They are trying to change the public’s perception about either themselves or their opponent, regardless of (or in spite of) the truth or reality.  Perception is reality, and unless President Obama learns this lesson, then his chances for reelection are slim.       

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