White House Believes TV Blitz Boosts Agenda

Posted September 22, 2009 at 6:06pm

While critics have warned that President Barack Obama is becoming “overexposed— with a recent rush of television appearances, White House officials believe their strategy of presidential media saturation has helped them gain the offensive on health care, forcing Republicans into a responsive mode after weeks in which criticism of the Obama plan dominated the airwaves.

But the extent to which the president is actually helping his health care initiative is unclear. While some polls showed a small favorable bump after his Sept. 9 speech to Congress — which launched the new high-profile Obama effort — there is not yet evidence of major gains.

Republican pollster David Winston said polling on health care is back to where it was before the speech. A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll conducted the week after the speech put approval of the president’s performance on health care at 44 percent, about the same as it was in July.

But Obama aides express satisfaction with media coverage that has focused on the president and his message, asserting that their boss has been dominating news cycles and that this augers well for his health care agenda. Obama’s appearance on five major TV news shows Sunday is thought in the White House to have had an effect greater than the individual interviews, with much attention being drawn to the president because of the very fact that he was all over the TV.

The president will dominate the headlines again in the next few days, this time focusing on foreign policy with a visit to the United Nations in New York and the G20 conference in Pittsburgh. Aides claim that the detour into foreign policy does not detract from the health care effort. Instead, it is what the country wants to see in its president — the ability to juggle complex issues like financial reform and energy even while the health care battle rages on.

Obama aides brush aside assertions that the boss is overexposed, believing people want to hear from their president and the rules of overexposure apply more to celebrities. “It’s not as if he’s a contestant on ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’— one White House official quipped. “People who are overexposed are people who are famous for being famous.—

Independent pollster John Zogby said that the White House’s best public relations weapon is the president himself and that it makes sense to get him in front of the public as much as possible.

“This is the one thing that works for him,— said Zogby, who noted a dip in Obama’s ratings during a period in the summer when he was not in the public eye as often. “He’s the best communicator out there.—

Indeed, after plummeting from the dizzying heights of January and February, the president’s personal approval ratings have stabilized and are now in the mid-50s — about the point where they were in late July.

“Given the polarization in the country and the state of the economy and all the crises out there, to be holding your own is a measure of success,— Zogby said.

But one House Republican leadership aide took a longer view of Obama’s race to get on TV. “They have diluted him,— this source said. “There may be a time when the president will have to address the nation on an important issue like troop deployments to Afghanistan, when he’ll have to rally the American people,— but his message will have less of an effect because people will have heard so much from him, this aide said.

Winston argued that the White House is too focused on messaging, saying Obama needs to change unpopular proposals instead. “The problem is that they think it’s about message, but it’s about content,— Winston said. “They need to change the content.—

The Republican leadership aide also questioned whether the Obama PR steamroller could smooth out what the GOP sees as a losing policy message.

“At the end of the day, what’s going to matter is not the president, but moderate Democrats,— the aide said. “It’s all well and good that the White House feels good, but the question is whether or not people will feel comfortable voting for a bill that has massive tax increases, rations care and piles on more debt,— the aide said, reciting the Republican objections to Obama’s health care overhaul proposals.