In other words, the strategy is working, and the White House just needs to communicate that better. The fights against domestic terror and ISIS alike are going great, if only people would understand it. But Obama’s impatience with the media and messaging is also clear. In some ways he may be right about the strategy. Despite the carnage in San Bernardino (and in Paris), ISIS is losing territory. That may be a long way from defeating them, but things are moving in the right direction. (Obama noted with some satisfaction that “those who are critics of our administration response, or the military, the intelligence response that we are currently mounting—when you ask them, well, what would you do instead, they don't have an answer.”)
This is humblebrag politics: I’m not great at explaining it, but man, am I great at policy. But does it accurately understand the problems, or what messaging entails? Obama views battlefield success against ISIS as the goal, and messaging as a simple process of telegraphing that. Messaging can be something greater than just the wrapping paper on the policy solution he has chosen. It’s about persuading people to come around to your side, not just telling them why your side is right.
This isn’t the first time Obama has insisted that everything’s going great and it’s just the wrapping paper that needs sprucing up. After the 2014 midterm election, which saw defeats for Democrats on all fronts, Obama told Bob Schieffer the problem was that he hadn’t communicated how well his administration was doing:
One thing that I do need to constantly remind myself and my team are is it's not enough just to build the better mousetrap. People don't automatically come beating to your door. We've got to sell it, we've got to reach out to the other side and where possible persuade. And I think there are times, there's no doubt about it where, you know, I think we have not been successful in going out there and letting people know what it is that we are trying to do and why this is the right direction. So there is a failure of politics there that we have got to improve on.
After the 2010 midterm “shellacking,” Obama was somewhat more conciliatory, saying, “I think that what I think is absolutely true is voters are not satisfied with the outcomes.” But even then, he wasn’t saying Republicans were right to oppose his stimulus; he was saying he hadn’t enacted an aggressive enough approach to create enough jobs. He wasn’t saying the price tags for the stimulus were too large; he was saying they seemed too large to many people.
In fact, many economists agree that he should have pursued a larger stimulus. There is widespread support for many components of the Affordable Care Act taken singly, despite the many more people who oppose the law in total. But it’s likely that many people would have opposed these efforts anyway. Some would have done so out of partisan, tribal loyalty, which motivates many people’s political positions. Others would have done so out of essential opposition to big-government programs. (Obama actually got at this, saying, “I think people started looking at all this and it felt as if government was getting much more intrusive into people’s lives than they were accustomed to”—though that “accustomed to” seems to again presume that with enough time and the right wrapping, they could be convinced.)