White House Cheat Sheet: Influencing the Influencers
President Obama ran against the chattering class politics of Washington but since coming into office has effectively manipulated this elite group of influencers using a variety of techniques from small group sitdowns to opinion pieces in various national and international newspapers.
On Thursday, in advance of his trip to Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas, Obama penned an opinion piece, which ran in the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald, as well as a wide array of South American newspapers, aimed at setting the terms for his visit.
"Our hemisphere is faced with a clear choice," the president wrote. "We can overcome our shared challenges with a sense of common purpose or we can stay mired in the old debates of the past."
This was the third time in his short tenure in office that Obama has turned to the opinion pages of American -- and international -- newspapers to make his case in advance of a major moment in his presidency.
Two days before Congress voted on his $787 economic stimulus plan, Obama penned an op-ed in the Washington Post (ever heard of it?) rebutting "misguided criticisms" of the legislation and insisting that the vote was a referendum on his promise to change politics; "What Americans expect from Washington is action that matches the urgency they feel in their daily lives," wrote Obama.
And, one week before heading to the G-20 meeting in London, Obama was at it again with an opinion piece that ran in more than two dozen domestic and international papers calling on the global community to take action.
The broader goal of this trio of opinion pieces is clear: use Obama's reputation as a thinker coupled with his ability to place an editorial when and where he wants it to frame the conversation among the pundit class in the days leading up to major moments for his administration.
(Or not. For an entirely different perspective, check out former Bush official Alex Conant's rebuttal on the importance of op-eds.)
Former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey (D), now the president of the New School in New York City, said that Obama is able to manipulate the conversations of the chattering class "because he controls his own ideas and can hold his own with the chatterers." Added Kerrey: "For D.C. political intellectuals he is good company."
Kerrey's point is born out by the series of private gatherings of opinion leaders -- both conservative and liberal -- in which Obama has taken part over his first twelve weeks in office.
And so, while Obama makes his disdain for the daily point-scoring element of politics plain, he also has clearly learned a valuable lesson from the presidency of George W. Bush whose refusal to engage the influencers ultimately backfired badly.
Hoping to avoid that same fate, Obama is using all the tools at his disposal to ensure that he has a hand in the daily, weekly and monthly conversations of the opinion makers in the nation's capital.
What to Watch For:
Friday's Fix Picks: By popular demand, we will keep these picks in this space as well as on the left side of the homepage -- for all the blackberry readers of the Cheat Sheet. Don't say we never gave you anything.
1. No prosecution for CIA officers involved in "enhanced interrogation techniques."
2. Palin! In Indiana.
3. Rick Perry: Secessionist?
4. North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr's bank comments get (unwanted) attention.
5. Madden Retires. Pow!
Repower America Begins Ad Campaign: A group allied with former vice president Al Gore is funding radio ads in 15 states aimed at rallying support behind President Obama's plan to cap carbon emissions, contained within his broader budget proposal. "Right now, Congress is debating a clean energy jobs plan that will jumpstart our economy, reduce carbon pollution, and break our dependence on foreign oil," says the ad's narrator. "We've got to make a choice: Try our luck with business as usual, or invest in a clean energy future. The smart money's on clean energy." The ads, which are being paid for by Repower America, will run in Arkansas, California, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia for the next two weeks. Repower America is a project of the Alliance for Climate Protection, an organization founded by Gore.
2012 Like It's Tomorrow: Keep an eye on South Dakota Sen. John Thune (R) as a darkhorse candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Thune showed $4.4 million in the bank at the end of March after raising more than $880,000 in the first three months of the year with no serious Democratic challenger anywhere in sight. If he keeps up that sort of pace -- and spends little to no real money to win re-election in 2010 -- he will be sitting on between $6 and $7 million (maybe more) when January 2011 rolls around. Thune has a few other things going for him: he is young and telegenic (a necessity in a race against President Obama), is loved by social conservatives but also taken seriously by the establishment of the party and already has some exposure in Iowa -- site of the first vote of 2012 -- thanks to the overlapping media market with South Dakota.
Click It!: Miss the Shad Planking (like us)? This video -- shot by post.com video journalist Whitney Shefte -- is the next best thing.
Back Away From the Ledge, Senator Cornyn: Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn's (R) poor fundraising -- $17,000 raised in the first three months of 2009, $57,000 in the bank -- coupled with his refusal to commit to a second term have stoked rumors that Republicans may be defending another open seat in 2010. Not so, according to those close to Coburn who insist his fundraising (or lack thereof) is more a signal of his unorthodox political approach than any indication of his future plans. Coburn is "90 percent" there when it comes to running for second term, said one adviser. If Coburn does decide to leave, Oklahoma would likely not be at the top of Democrats target list as it was the reddest state in the country in the 2008 presidential election.
Weekend Watching: Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe former state delegate Brian Moran and state Sen. Creigh Deeds gather at the College of William & Mary (alma mater of Post political editor Tim Curran) on Sunday for the first debate of the Virginia Democratic primary season. The debate is being moderated by the incomparable Andrea Mitchell and will begin at 2 p.m. (A reminder: The Fix is also moderated a Post-sponsored Democratic primary debate in Virginia on May 19 -- stay tuned for more details in this space shortly.)
Weekend Watching (Part 2): The latest Wilco (a.k.a. the best American rock band making music currently) documentary -- "Ashes of American Flags" -- is officially released on DVD tomorrow. Not saying anyone should buy it for the Fix (hint, hint Mrs. Fix) but it's supposed to be pretty cool. Check out the trailer.
Mazeltov!: Best wishes to Howard Wolfson, communications director for New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's reelection campaign and his wife Terri McCullough, chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) on the birth of their second child -- a boy! The deets: 6 lbs, 9 ounces, 19 inches.
Say What?: "We allow the Washington Post to be sold in Mississippi." -- Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour reassuring Post stock owners everywhere.
April 17, 2009; 6:02 AM ET
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