Is President Obama Losing His PR Mojo?

Early in his administration I wrote a blog entry about how effective President Obama was as a communicator. This morning I read editorials in two of New Jersey’s leading newspapers that took him to task for not being strong enough.

With the recent travails over the battle in Congress to raise the debt-ceiling and avoid the first-ever default by the U.S. government, the controversy over the president’s national health plan and the subsequent loss of the House of Representatives to the Republicans, could it be that the president is losing his effectiveness as a communicator and with it, his message and potentially reelection?

If so, how can a leader so gifted as a communicator suddenly be perceived as weak by editorial boards?

Here’s an excerpt from Tom Moran’s front page story in today’s Newark Star Ledger, which calls on President Obama to take on the persona of Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey,

The solution here is obvious: Obama needs a blood transfusion from someone meaner, someone who doesn’t shy away from a fight, someone who is willing to take his case to the people and force change.

He needs a dose of Gov. Chris Christie.

Yes, this is a dangerous business. With too much Christie in his system, Obama might invade Iran, or even France. And we really don’t need another president who favors the rich over the poor at every turn.

But Christie is a strong and natural leader. He is clear about what he wants. He fights like an angry pit bull. And he cuts a deal only after he’s roughed up the other side a bit.

The editorial board of the Asbury Park Press today also lit into the president for a lack of conviction. Just check out the strong language in the lead of their editorial:

President Barack Obama has revealed himself to be a man unwilling to fight for the principles in which he has said he believed.
The protracted debt ceiling/deficit reduction battle reveals, more starkly than ever, this president’s inability to stand firm. The United States may avoid a default, but the battle will end not with a bang, but with a whimper. Sadly, this is now the defining moment of Obama’s presidency.

As if the lead wasn’t strong enough, the editorial closed with the following words:

 The president gave in and gave in, and he has lost whatever good will the great middle had for his attempt to be the rational one in the argument. Americans cannot respect a president who runs up the white flag of surrender.

 And this obscene sausage-making is only the latest in a long line of appeasements: on health care, on Guantanamo Bay, on civilian trials for terror suspects.

 
 We teach our children the fine art of compromise, but if you compromise away your values, you’ve lost something you cannot get back by barter.

 
 We don’t want to elect some “philosopher-king” out of Plato. We want a leader with fire in his belly, who at least puts up an honest struggle based on core principles, who, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “spends himself in a worthy cause … and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 So many thought that Barack Obama might be just that man. It looks as if we were wrong.

How does a great communicator all of sudden lose his effectiveness? Regardless of whether you support his policies or not, what these two editorials are getting at is a desire for the American public to see a leader stand strong and fight for his principles. The Presidency of the United States stands alone as the world’s most difficult job and carries with it, expectations higher than any other executive office.

Many Americans may not have liked the way President Truman fired General Macarthur but they respected his standing as commander in chief and need to be the one making the ultimate decisions in time of war. President Jimmy Carter may have lost the nation when he scolded it for having a national malaise. No matter how vilified President Reagan may have been for his staunch build up of American forces and desire to stand up to the Soviet Union, including calling them an “Evil Empire,” no one could question where he stood, especially his opponents. President George W. Bush rallied the nation in grief by standing on the rubble of Ground Zero with a bullhorn in hand, saying the people responsible would soon hear from us and they did. But his lack of command during the Hurricane Katrina crisis may have ultimately led to his second-term problems, not the quagmire of the Iraq War.

Perhaps no president in history was more steadfast in his beliefs than Abraham Lincoln. That belief system stayed the course through four years of Civil War and he paid the ultimate price with his life.

Presidential leadership is different than any other position in the world. CEO’s can make mistakes which affect the stock price of their companies. If they make enough of them they can be displaced by their Board of Directors or be ousted via a shareholder revolt. However, those that stay in their positions for long periods of time are usually ones that are not afraid to make bold decisions and stick by them.

As an agency head I know full well that companies are paying iMedia Public Relations to develop strategies and concepts to build their brands and expand their communications outreach to their targeted audiences. If I don’t believe in the campaigns we develop for clients and stand behind our strategy, then why should our client’s feel confident in our agency?

President Obama has achieved tremendous success in his life because of his self-confidence, skills and ability to communicate.

In order to get his pr mojo back, President Obama doesn’t need to change into Chris Christie or any other politician. He needs to do what any other CEO must do to carry out his agenda. He must effectively articulate his goals, explain their importance to Americans and ensure that he stands behind his convictions.

Whether you support the President or not, what these editorials are getting at is that Americans want someone in the job that stands strong. Can President Obama find his voice? If he doesn’t, a second term will not be in the offing.

Tom Cosentino

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