Photo by birgerking.
Now that President Obama’s poll numbers are gently sliding into W. Bush territories, it’s no wonder he’s spent a fair portion of this year using town hall events to target the demographic so instrumental to his success in 2008 — those darn college kids with all their fancy social media. After his latest appearance at the headquarters of Linkedin in Silocone Valley earlier this week, the president has now held a town hall at every major social network under the sun.
Looking at the audience’s general tone and the president’s chummy camaraderie with CEOs during these town halls, you would never guess that the president’s base is in any way disillusioned or frustrated with him. And if their turnout for the 2010 midterm elections indicated anything, they most certainly are.
Perhaps this is because the president’s past town hall events have not gone so swimmingly. Most memorably at an MSNBC moderated event held a year ago, then-CFO of American Veterans, Velma Hart took the President to task in the following fashion:
Needless to say, we’re hard-pressed to find any such perspectives among those given microphones at the latest social media town halls, even though the president’s approval rating isn’t any higher than it was a year ago. In fact, the most noteworthy remark from any audience member at a recent town hall thus far has come from ex-Google employee and millionaire Doug Edwards who asked the president to please raise his taxes.
While I don’t doubt this is how Edwards truly feels, his remarks (and the healthy applause that proceeded) stung with a cringe-worthy aura of product placement. Even the staunchest Obama supporter has to admit that, with these appearances, the president’s once breathtakingly authentic public presence has now shamefully devolved into infomerical territory–or propaganda of the most banal and obvious sort.
Therein lies the ultimate irony of these ‘social media’ town halls. We’re supposed to believe that from the headquarters of the Internet’s most deafening loud speakers through which every single possible voice with a dial-up connection is heard… no one bothers to ask the president how exactly he plans to stare down Republicans in the fight to pass his jobs bill given how embarrassingly he caved on the debt ceiling debate or the Bush tax cuts? Or conversely, (and I know inviting the Tea Party to a town hall isn’t exactly asking for a organic, functional, or reasoned discourse, but) they couldn’t find a single conservative polite enough to ask him to please not raise his taxes, if only for the sake of political tokenism?
Of course, one would have to be hopelessly naive to believe that the choice of participants at these debates isn’t in any way influenced by the president’s handlers, or at least discussed in conjunction with the hosting venue ahead of time. Now that the White House has a few town halls under its belt, they have the experience to refine them into a series of hallow events that flatly ignores the real concerns of millions of disenfranchised and truly jobless Americans (not unemployed-by-choice millionaires). In the face of that ignorance, they have grown unconvinced by a politician whose first true believers fell in love with how clearly he lead his own campaign instead of letting himself be run by it. Why has the White House not answered their voices? Because who would want to deal with another Velma Hart?
Around the time of the last State of the Union address (which, I don’t know if anyone noticed, was pretty much the same exact speech as the American Jobs Act speech he made to a joint session of Congress earlier this month, only it wasn’t delivered like a dad scolding his kids) much was made by the media of Obama’s ambitions to become the Democratic version of Ronald Reagan. Yet, the true talent of the ‘Great Communicator’ was that he knew it wasn’t the medium that was important, but the message–wherein the current president’s debilitating flaw lies.
These town halls only convey the disproportional amount of time spent by the White House trying to find the environment to relay the president’s message that was safest from unfriendly sound bytes, instead of considering fully the efficacy of that message. Voices on the right tell us that America has had enough of the ‘hope-y, change-y’ speeches and demand action. But really, when was the last time we heard about hope or change from anyone? What we have heard about is all of the godless spending in stimulus and tax cuts, not to mention a complete revamp of health care, and somehow this president is “all talk?” Please.
If the legacies of Reagan or candidate Obama teach us anything, it’s that in economic environments frozen by self-fulfilling prophecies of lacking confidence, words may just speak louder than actions, because in desperate times they become actions. Were the ’80s truly “Morning in America”? Debatable, but there’s a sizable case to be made that saying so gave many Americans the faith that it was true. Which leads us to today– are we still truly “the ones that we’ve been waiting for?”
Sometimes we all need a little reminder, just to keep our chins up.