January 21st, 2010

You Can’t Listen WhenYou’re Talking

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Written by: Polly Twocents

not-listening-thumb11When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me that when you’re talking you’re not listening. Someone might want to tell that to President Obama who made an interesting comment yesterday while reflecting on U.S. Senator-elect Scott Brown’s big win in Massachusetts.

“If there’s one thing that I regret this year is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values,” Obama said in a one-on-one interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. The interview, which aired last night on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, took place in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.

It is an interesting way to frame Brown’s win. The remark reveals that he still doesn’t get it. The problem wasn’t about not speaking to the American people. In fact, the president talked plenty. According to an internet posting on CBS, the president gave some 411 speeches, comments and remarks including 52 on health insurance reform in his first 365 days in office. He held 42 news conferences and granted 158 interviews (not sure if this includes the Stephanopoulous’ exclusive), far more than other presidents during their freshman year. Ninety of these were for TV, 11 were radio and 57 were print interviews.

The problem was about not listening to the American people.

In terms of opportunities to listen, the president attended 23 town hall meetings – make that 21 town hall meeting. Two of the town halls were in foreign countries (France and China) and don’t count for opportunities to listen to Americans. From news clips on TV, the 23 town halls conducted stateside looked like staged events stacked with pro-Obama, pro-health insurance reform supporters. The people were used like props standing or sitting behind him on risers and cheering when he spoke. There were not a lot of Tea Party folks invited to these town hall meeting. Campaigning back in 2008 then-Senator Obama learned that taking raw man-on-the street questions from non-union Republicans and Independents can be dangerous to your ratings. Remember Joe the Plumber and his pesky little question about taxes?

Indeed the Obama administration has been absolutely tone deaf to the American public this past year as they have pushed their liberal agenda forward. The President had promised to bring a new, bi-partisan tone to Washington but this has been one of the most rancorous years with Republicans and Independents shut out of the conversation while ideologues in leadership positions were incapable of collaboration.

During July and August in town hall meeting after town hall meeting across the country angry citizens begged their senate and congressional representatives to slow down, to moderate what many called “the socialization” of our American health care system, and to watch the price tag for change. As unemployment surged, spiking to 10.2 percent in November, and as the national debt swelled to $12.3 trillion and counting (it increases by about $4 billion a day), the Obama Administration has just pointed a finger of blame at the previous administration while racing to pass a health care bill that 56 percent of voters oppose, according to the latest Rasmussen poll conducted on Monday. Not only does the majority oppose the measure, only 38 percent of voters approve of it.

Certainly Brown’s win affects the balance of power in the Senate. It is no longer filibuster-proof. However, the Republicans need to be cautious in claiming that Brown’s win is a national referendum on the health care measure. It was not. Nor is it a decisive predictor that the pendulum has begun to swing back toward the GOP. Brown’s victory may simply mean that voters in a liberal, traditionally Democrat state want more balance and civility in Washington, and they want our elected officials to act like representatives of the people them rather than an elitist tone-deaf politburo.

However, President Obama may truly be having a moment of awakening as he begins to see his poll numbers slip and the possibility of losing more national and state seats to Republicans. And he might want to take my dad’s advice to heart about how you can’t listen when you’re doing all the talking.

About the Author

Polly Twocents
Polly Twocents is the pseudonym for the political commentary of Patti Brown, a partner in the Iowa Policy Institute, a research and analysis firm specializing in public policy issues. Patti is an Iowa mother of five who has a masters degree in journalism with a minor in political science from Iowa State University and an masters in social work from the University of Iowa. Patti worked for many years as a social worker in hospital, hospice and mental health settings. In addition she has also been a staff writer and columnist for The Catholic Mirror and a writer for The Des Moines Register. She is unabashedly and consistently pro-life and pro-family. As a bleeding heart conservative, Patti believes in a limited, representative government, personal responsibility, individual opportunity, and free enterprise.

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