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The Insiders
Posted at 08:16 AM ET, 07/02/2012

The White House has a surrogate problem

The White House does not have compelling surrogates who can effectively represent the president, his campaign or his domestic policies on TV. This will become more of a problem as the campaign progresses. How did this happen with a supposedly media-savvy Obama political team?

The Obama forces have routinely had David Axelrod and David Plouffe appear to talk about campaign developments, but too often they are also the White House spokesmen on policy. It diminishes the seriousness of the Obama-led government to have campaign hands discussing policy developments and government initiatives that should be best understood and therefore best represented by someone credentialed with more than campaign roles and responsibilities. After the Supreme Court ruling last week, this Insider predicted some awkward moments would occur on this Sunday’s news shows. It was worse than I thought.

Talking point-laden White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew was sent out to deny the obvious and defend the indefensible. Lew is a serious and a credible spokesman, but obviously the decision was made by the Obama campaign leadership that he should go on TV and say Obamacare isn't a tax. I found myself embarrassed for Lew as he gamely tried to avoid using the word "tax." He was obviously told by the Obama campaign that the plan is to embrace the ruling but deny the reasoning behind it.

The Obama machine has unqualified spokespeople giving political spin on policy and qualified people forced into pablum by the political handlers. All of this contributes to making our political debate less serious and a turn-off for voters.  

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and others on the national security team are obviously effective, and they know what they are talking about. They wouldn't accept the rote political talking points from the campaign anyway. But foreign policy isn't a topic that is a priority during the campaign season.

All this suggests that the Obama White House is run by a clique of people who think they are smarter than everyone else. This makes them think a very few need to do all the talking. Does it matter? Who cares who goes on the Sunday shows?  The answer is it matters some. And in the case of President Obama, it feeds the negative stereotype of a campaigner-in-chief who doesn't try to distinguish between governing and campaigning. This hubris produces lousy governing and lousy campaigning. The Obama leadership either doesn't see it or it hopes and assumes others don't, but people do notice.

By  |  08:16 AM ET, 07/02/2012

 
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