President Obama, Back on the Trail
In his online town hall today at the White House President Obama drew on the lessons he learned on the campaign trail to help move his legislative agenda forward in Congress.
The event, which included questions submitted online (and via video) as well as a studio audience, had the look and feel of any number of campaign events candidate Obama held over the past two years. Obama strolled comfortably around the room, packed with people, a wireless microphone in his hand -- it was easy to forget that he was in the White House and not in a union hall in Des Moines.
And, rhetorically, the themes Obama sounded mirrored the pillars of his campaign -- an outsider appeal that decries the political chattering class in the nation's capital.
In his opening remarks, Obama said:
"Here in Washington, politics all too often is treated like a game. There's a lot of point scoring, a lot of talk about who's up and who's down, a lot of time and energy spent on whether the President is winning or losing on this particular day or this particular hour. But this isn't about me. It's about you."
The idea of the presidency as a grassroots movement -- Obama as conduit for the hopes and dreams of a country -- is the latest sign of just how much Obama and his senior aides are implementing the strategic successes of the campaign now that he is in the White House.
It's easy to forget that the marathon two-year campaign is one of the formative events -- if not THE formative event -- in the shaping of Obama's political mind. It's not surprising then that Obama draws deeply from the campaign when trying to convince voters -- and Congress -- of the rightness of his proposals.
As the Post's irreplaceable Dan Balz noted yesterday, one of the lessons Obama learned during that campaign was the value of persistence -- of sticking to the plan regardless of the daily ups and down of the political cycle.
"He learned from his campaign that the velocity of information can instantly change the conventional wisdom, for better or worse, and that there is no more to be gained from trying to anticipate those shifts than from trying to time the market," wrote Balz.
In today's town hall, Obama demonstrated another lesson learned from the campaign: speak directly to the American people and watch the traditional media follow along. (Politico's Jonathan Martin has written smartly about the Obama team's effort to end run the media filter.)
The White House repeatedly touted the "first of its kind" nature of today's town hall in which regular people could submit and vote on questions that would be asked of the president. There would be no media buffer -- this was people speaking directly with their president.
Obama reinforced that idea early on, telling the live audience that he was "looking forward to taking your questions and hearing your thoughts and concerns -- because what matters to you and your families, and what people here in Washington are focused on, aren't always one and the same thing."
And yet, Obama wasn't penalized by the traditional media for this gambit. Far from it. The town hall was carried live by the cable networks -- for differing lengths of time -- a decision that essentially gave the president free air time to make his unchallenged case on the economy to the American people.
To borrow a well worn cliche -- Obama got to have his cake and eat it too.
Watch for the Obama White House to do more of these sorts of events as the intensity of the budget fight in Congress picks up. Such a strategy will force Republicans to adjust their approach to counter the Obama media juggernaut and media outlets to rethink how they cover such events.
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