It’s still better than WGN

Looking to keep stories about the White House’s dabbling in primary elections alive, the RNC launched the “Obama Chicago Network” in an email to supporters this afternoon.

The site boasts four “shows” that deal with various negative stories surrounding the Sestak/Romanoff could-have-been-bribery affairs, plus Rod Blagojevich thrown in for fun:

Even if it is somewhat dated in the pop culture references (some of the shows they are spoofing are past their prime or canceled), it’s pretty funny, makes good use of news clips, and has a poll to collect people’s contact information.  With Blagojevich in the news, it does a good job of tying the administration As a lead generator, the site is good, but it’s missing something that could make it a really useful tool for Republican messaging: a section where users could “pitch” their own shows.  Not only is audience participation a good thing, but it might make for some must-see TV.

Politics, policy, and the President’s speech

Criticism of the President’s speech last night ranged from the lack of specific policy asks to the aggressive tone he took in describing what BP would be forced to do.  But those elements are what made the speech a short term winner – and possibly the only viable course of action.

Though it breaks a personal moratorium on referencing Ronald Reagan, the purpose of this speech should have been similar to the 1986 speech after the Challenger disaster.  That speech sought to restore confidence in American ingenuity, which had just taken a very dazzling and public hit.

Obama’s speech had a similar goal – channel and focus people’s emotions.  In his case, he wanted to empathize with Gulf residents and all Americans who will feel the environmental brunt of a company’s mistake.  The policy ideas he put forward are window dressing for the bigger message – he feels your pain, and he’s going to inflict some of it on BP through a relief fund that the oil company will fund but not direct.   (Something that would have been a good idea for BP to set up in the first place.)

Could he come out of this swinging and missing?  Could BP challenge the seizure of their assets in court – and, conceivably, win?  Perhaps, but after waiting 57 days to make this statement, it’s the best message the President has.

Plus, if BP weasels out of the bill some how, the President will still have a chance to make them the bad guy.  Just because a James Bond villain jumps in an escape pod and eludes capture doesn’t make Bond’s effort any less heroic.  It just means that Obama will have to find new and creative ways to hold BP accountable – something like tax credits for owners of local BP gas stations  owners who want to change  their affiliation.

It may not be good policy, but it’s good politics.  As the old saying goes, when you see a mob coming with pitchforks and torches, either grab a torch and join the crowd or start running in another direction.

What’s spreading faster, oil or failure?

A local television station in Louisiana ran into some problems trying to interview some spill cleanup workers – and in doing so, highlighted one more way BP is not helping itself in its response to the spill:

Cleanup workers might not be media savvy, but they remain the best face that BP could put on their cleanup efforts (certainly better than a clearly foreign CEO).  Whether the glorified rent-a-cop in this video (and his backpack-clad sidekick) are following orders that contradict BP’s official statements on press availability or they are carrying out a legit safety function isn’t clear.  What is clear is that they are not communications experts.

At least BP can rest easy knowing that, no matter how sophisticated their PR strategy, they weren’t coming out of this oil spill clean.  The administration’s inability to escape criticism is particularly fascinating (and means I have to eat a plate of oil-soaked crow).

Most recently, the President compared the oil spill to 9/11.  Perhaps that’s his way of getting tougher on BP – as the polls are apparently asking for him to do.  The problem of course, is that the President is doing everything he can do – and that just isn’t that much.  After coming into office with promises that he could make government work for people again, the spill underscores that government simply isn’t qualified for the job.

Ultimately, that puts the US government and BP on two sides of the same coin.  Both wind up despised by the people – BP for wielding too much power; the government for impotence.

Photo finished?

This picture is not good for our President:

Earlier this week, I talked with Matt Lewis about how the lack of a Bush-esque, detached, looking-down-from-an-airplane-at-disaster picture or video would help save President Obama from the derision and scorn his predecessor received after reacting to a Gulf coast crisis.

More likely to hurt Obama is the perception that he is at once corrupt and incompetent.  Politico details the frustration many Democrats have with the White House’s failed meddling in Democratic primaries – but it’s the accompanying hilarious picture which cuts the administration’s political shop deepest.

3 Unfortunate Predictions about Health Care

Sunday looks like D-Day for President Obama’s push to overhaul health care.  There is plenty of speculation flying around about votes in the coming days and what those mean for votes in November.

How will health care affect the political environment over the coming eight months?  Some humble predictions:

1. Health care will only be a short-term political liability for Democrats if it doesn’t pass – if it does, it will be a short-term benefit.

The bitter battle over health care is one reason that voters are souring on everybody in Washington.  The sooner that debate is over, the sooner Democrats can focus on things like regulatory reform and passing out money like Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman ’89 while asking, “Who do you trust?” – both of which are much easier to craft messages for.

But there’s more than that.  The opposition to Obamacare (both official and unofficial) has highlighted long-term effects for the American health care system and federal budget – unfavorable comparisons to British and Canadian health care systems, excessive cost, and even shortages of care and care givers.  These won’t take effect by November 2010 or even 2012.

If the health care overhaul passes – and the expected state challenges are quick and quiet – Democrats will trumpet their progress for the next three years while accusing Republicans of lies and scare tactics.  Obama is right to link the passage of health care and his party’s political fortunes.

2. It’s probably going to pass, and it doesn’t matter how.

As Dan Flynn opines, the reason there hasn’t been a vote already is because there aren’t enough votes.  Until Nancy Pelosi can amass 216 Democrats to support whatever parliamentary gymnastics she has to do to get a bill through the House, there will not be a vote.  When the vote comes up, bet the house – it’s getting through.

3.  The “Repeal Obamacare” movement will get less traction than one might expect.

Entitlements are the gifts that keep on giving.  They don’t actually help end poverty, they don’t give people a comfortable retirement, and they don’t help people who have lost their jobs find new ones.  They do provide platforms for politicians to promise even more entitlements.  When entitlements fail to fix the problem they were meant to solve (or make it worse), the answer is generally to dump more funding into the failed program.

Even failed programs can be elevated to third-rail status.  Remember the left-wing backlash against President George W. Bush’s Social Security reform?  You can expect a similar reaction to future attempts to roll back Obamacare.

Like Social Security reform, real health care reform – that involves doing more than just getting more people into a broken system – will require a long-term, sustained effort that changes how our culture views our government.

Bonus prediction: By the way, whatever the outcome of the vote on Sunday, people with money will always get the health care they need and want.

Yes we can differentiate between crazy people

The Southern Poverty Law Center paints anarchist extremists with the same brush as tea partiers and small-government enthusiasts.  I wonder if they draw the same lines between President Barack Obama and New York State Senate candidate Hiram Monserrate.

Monserratte – or “Monster Rat,” according to the New York Daily News – is running for re-election to the state senate seat he was kicked out of last month for his unconventional domestic conflict resolution methods.

His campaign slogan for next week’s special election is “Yes We Can,” and his paraphernalia features the Obama ’08 logo prominently.  The DNC has told him to knock it off, but it’s not clear if there’s really anything they can do – at least, not in time for the election.  (And if they do, they better get their arms over their faces quick, Monserrate reportedly likes to get stabby with broken glass.)

One can either accept that there are crazy people in both parties or we can take the extremists on both ends as the norm, but certainly neither side has a monopoly.  Despite best efforts by either side to brand opponents by the lunatic fringe, crazy may be the only place to find true bipartisanship.

The politics of fear

Washington is still buzzing about the RNC’s leaked fundraising presentation, especially the use of the word “fear” as a means to win support.

Why couldn’t the Republicans be more like our President, who speaks in rational terms about ideas, just like he did in Pennsylvania today:

Every year, the problem gets worse.  Every year, insurance companies deny more people coverage because they’ve got preexisting conditions.  Every year, they drop more people’s coverage when they get sick right when they need it most.  Every year, they raise premiums higher and higher and higher.

See the difference?

Viva la revolucion

Patrick Ruffini, one of the consultants who helped Scott Brown take back the people’s seat in Massachusetts, wrote an extensive wrap-up of the campaign’s online fundraising in the last month.   The whole thing is a good read, but his assessment of the recent online innovations of each party at the very end is intriguing:

As we have written in the pages of the Washington Post, during the right’s online wilderness years (this “wildnerness” being the mirror image of being in power in Washington) many pundits wondered whether the right was at a permanent structural disadvantage online… [N]ow that the right has needed to use grassroots tools to break the Democratic lock-hold on Washington, they’ve done it in a big way. And it’s happened much faster, and with greater early electoral success, than the evolution of the liberal “netroots” which didn’t really take off until the end of Bush’s first term.

Much has been written about the Massachusetts race, and most of it is an exaggeration.  But the studies of Brown and Virginia’s Gov. Bob McDonnell successful use of online tactics in winning campaigns underscores a running theme – like President Obama, their innovative campaigns were seeking to win an office held by the other party.  All three were on the outside looking in.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.  Political parties are made up of politicians, so of course they tend to be risk-averse – unless they have no office to risk.

The Obama Triangle?

Our President is establishing a bad track record.

Much has been written and said on his drop in the polls over the last year, but his track record in trying to lend a helping hand has been particularly disturbing:

  • In 2009, President Obama campaigned in New Jersey for incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine and in Virginia for Democrat Creigh Deeds.  Both tied their campaigns to the successful 2008 Obama campaign in varying degrees; both lost.
  • In 2010, the President entered the Bay State to give Democrat Martha Coakley a boost in what was, according to the polls at the time, a dead heat.  We know how that turned out.

He should have sung “Tomorrow”

President Obama is calling for a new stimulus package, this one specifically targeted to create jobs.  Though the President is no doubt a gifted orator, one can’t help but feel like the speech to the Brookings Institution was a little familiar… But where have we heard it before?

Of course, this speech comes on the same day that news broke that $6 million of the last stimulus went to PR work coordinated by firms run by Democratic operative Mark Penn.

Maybe the President should have looked at this speech instead: