Five days after a demoralizing midterm election, President Obama appeared on 60 Minutes to make the case that ... wait, why did the president appear on 60 Minutes, exactly?
He told Americans that the economy might never fully recover. He said the White House is discouraged about the election and the economy. He admitted that he made mistakes, knowingly committed an unforced political error in health care reform, and got too heated with his rhetoric during the midterm campaign. He prepared Americans for the "hard, long slog" ahead. That the president is his own harshest critic is admirable, but CBS interviews aren't required at the halfway point like a midterm exam. The president sat down in that chair to make a point. So what was the point?
A sympathetic interpretation of the interview would say: Here's a smart and thoughtful guy dispassionately describing a complex and diseased institution which he happens to lead. An unsympathetic interpretation would say the president messed up, lost big, and doesn't think he can fix the economy. If it's a confidence game Obama is playing, the president is apparently employing the rope-a-dope strategy.
If you watched cable news in the last week, you learned that presidential "tone" and Obama's "demeanor" ruined the Democratic Party. To be fair, this seems improbable. The Democrats' fate was sealed by the crummy economy, sticky unemployment, flat income growth, over-stretched majorities in both the House and Senate, a liberal forward-looking agenda thrown into stark contrast by the surprisingly deep recession, a brilliantly obstructionist minority that encouraged conservative voters and discouraged liberals, and a hundred other variables.
Still, presidential messaging matters. If the White House cares enough about marketing to put the president in front of a Sunday audience, it should care enough to have a message worth marketing. So what's the White House's message? (I don't see it. Look yourself.) It'll need one in 2011.