Can the medium help make up for the message?
President Obama’s participation Wednesday in a virtual town hall in which he will answer questions put to him by Twitter users is the latest move by Obama’s tech-savvy operation, which in 2008 was well-ahead of both his Democratic rivals and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the use of Internet to excite supporters, organize volunteers and raise money.
But in office, despite “"West Wing Week,” the "White Board,” a Facebook town hall and other innovations in the use of the Internet by a president, Obama has lost support among major swaths of the electorate, particularly independents. What happened between 2008 and 2011 of course was a historically bad recession and a hyper-partisan environment in Washington that soured some voters on Obama.
Obama and his team are constantly communicating and trying different ways to reach and convince the American electorate of their case, and the Twitter event is the latest example. These types of events have no real harm and some benefit for the president: no doubt some Americans who don’t read papers like The Washington Post or watch television news can get information from the Twitter session. The president can point out his eagerness to work with the GOP and his ideas to spur job growth to a new audience.
What’s not clear is if communication is, in fact, the problem for the Obama White House. Over the last two years, some Democratic party strategists and activists have urged Obama and his team to attack the GOP more, heap blame on Wall Street for the crash of 2008 that set off the recession , and detail plans that would use more government money to stimulate the economy to show a contrast with Republicans, even if those proposals have little chance to become law.
But polls suggest the real challenge is not about communication, but a sluggish economy that has millions of Americans worried about their economic futures. And it’s not clear if anything Obama will tweet on Wednesday can change that.