"Why doesn't Obama just use the bully pulpit?"
"Single payer would have passed if Obama had used the bully pulpit."
"Obama refuses to use the bully pulpit"
Whenever comments like this appear, I post the same response:
There is no bully pulpit.
It usually gets some pushback from people who somehow imagine that President Obama has the same access to news coverage that Teddy Roosevelt had. Or that FDR had. Or that Lyndon Johnson had. How they can believe that, I have no idea.
When I was a child (lo those many years ago), if the President of the United States gave a speech it was on all three networks, and the next day the Washington Post and the Evening Star would print the entire text of the speech in the front section of the paper.
Now the president often gets shunted off the free networks onto the cable stations. So he can give a major speech without most of the American People finding out about it because they were watching Two and Half Men, or a Grade Z movie on CINEMAX or any of a number of other things on of hundreds of other channels.
And as for the text in the paper the next day? Not even the New York Times does that anymore. Which doesn't matter because people aren't getting their news from newspapers anyway.
When I was a child, if the president wanted to give a press conference, even the most popular shows on television would be pre-empted. On all three networks. Now the President has to ask the networks to give him time, and they ask him to avoid prime time when by definition the most people are watching. They ask him to avoid the syndicated daytime shows because they earn big money for the affiliates. When Obama first took office and asked for airtime the way previous presidents were able to do, the networks complained and bitched and moaned. In 2009 Fox Broadcast channel (not Fakes News on cable) simply refused to air a presidential press conference. He simply got shut out. They justified it by saying that the viewership for his press conferences was declining. And unfortunately they were right. So even when Obama asks for air time, there are lots of people who just don't watch.
Sometimes the President can give a 45 minute speech and be lucky to get 15 seconds of coverage on free television. Many news outlets, if they cover it at all, will not play any actual clips of what the president said, preferring instead to quote only how pundits reacted to the speech. Fakes News does that all the time, and it is the most watched news channel on cable. We all remember how they cut away from one of his major health care speeches, calling it a “pep rally” and complaining that “the President doing everything he can to try and get the American people behind his health care reform plans.” Um, yes! That's the idea! And if we had an unbiased press who gave people the facts, the majority support for single payer would have had a better chance of winning the day!
But most people aren't getting their news from primary sources anymore. They get it filtered through a right-wing sieve. They almost never hear what the president actually said, they only hear what the pundits said about what the president said. And the most listened to pundits in this country think nothing of flat out lying about what the president said, or making up things he didn't say. Fakes News cuts away from the President's health care speech to go to John Boehner lying about it? Par for the course.
When I was a child, if the President took a foreign trip, it was big news everywhere. Stories on the news, pictures in all the papers.
I bet not one person in 10,000 can tell you that President Obama was in Ireland in May.
Older people speak fondly about the Fireside Chats. I am not old enough to remember them. But I do know that they were happening at a time when radio was the primary source for news and entertainment for the country. When FDR broadcast his final fireside chat, there were fewer than 40,000 people with television sets in the entire country (and most of those were in New York) but there were 40 million homes with radio. FDR spoke words of reassurance to people gathered around their radios before they went to bed on those Sunday nights. At a time when the population of the whole country was only about 125 million, his first Fireside Chat reached an estimated 60 million people. Almost half the entire U.S. population.
There is literally nothing President Obama can do that will reach half the U.S. population at one time. He could not even get 60 million people to watch his inauguration, and the population of the country has more than doubled since FDR left office. Not one person in 1000 listens to the president's weekly address. Or even knows when it is on. Or even knows what DAY it is on. Look at the low views on YouTube.
When I was a child, radio news stations also used to carry Presidential speeches and news conferences live. Now not even NPR does that. Which doesn't matter because people aren't getting their news from radio anymore. Are there any radio news stations left? Anywhere?
This trend became apparent during Clinton's presidency. By the time Dubya
was appointed to the presidency took office, he did not have a bully pulpit either.
But GWB did not need one. He had Murdoch's 24-hour news channel devoted to spreading his message, and CNN trying mightily to become Fakes News Lite. Dubya also had hundreds of radio stations devoted to spreading wall to wall wingnut propaganda. Obama, of course, does not have that advantage. Even if you erroneously believe MSNBC is the left-leaning counterpart to Fakes News (and it is not), MSNBC does not have news 24/7, as we have all complained about the prison porn and To Catch a Predator marathons. It remains to be seen how KO will develop Current, but it is a sure bet that Current will not be as supportive of Obama and as dedicated to getting his message out as Fakes News was with Dubya.
The perfect example of the lack of a bully pulpit occurred in 2009 when the President wanted to give a “back to school” address to the children of the nation. The VRWC went into high gear. With one voice they claimed he was going to give a political speech and “indoctrinate” kids! Yeah—they were afraid their children would see for themselves that the President is reasonable and amiable, and not at all the scary black boogeyman they have heard their parents talk about. Some wingnut parents were in such a frenzy of outrage they demanded the right to have their children opt out of hearing the speech. Whole school systems refused to show children an address from the President of the United States!
Fakes News complaining about indoctrination???!!! Pot, meet kettle—and all because the President is black!
And a Democrat.
No one was more surprised than I when daytime TV gave the President wall to wall coverage a few weeks ago to talk about the debt ceiling negotiations. CBS even pre-empted the Price is Right, which cost them some serious money. And networks gave the President prime time coverage too, although they complained that he wasn't “making any news”. So even when they deign to put the President on free TV as they did a few weeks ago, it is a rare event and only lasts a few minutes.
Compare that with the three hours a day, five days a week, that Rush Limpbaugh has to get his Republicon message out. He has the ability to reach millions of people directly in a way that this President can not, with virtually no contradictory message to argue against him. Millions of people voluntarily consume Limpbaugh's opinions for hours every day, preceded and followed by people who are reinforcing the exact same message. There are many many parts of the country where every single talk show around the clock has a right-wing host: Bill Bennett followed by Dennis Prager followed by Michael Medved followed by Hugh Hewitt followed by Lonesome Rhodes followed by Rush Limpbaugh followed by Sean insHannity followed by Mark Levin followed by Dennis Miller followed by Michael Savage followed by Laura Ingraham etc. ad nauseum. “News breaks” at the top of the hour that last seven minutes, including commercials, weather, and sports, don't give listeners much real factual information about what the president is or isn't saying or doing.
How is this President supposed to compete with that? Is the VRWC balanced out because they put Obama on free daytime TV a few times and a couple of times at night? When every viewer who didn't turn it off as soon as it came on gets to sit through rebuttal arguments immediately afterward that often last longer than the speech itself? Please.
So I am fed up with people who keep saying that all President Obama has to do is “use the bully pulpit” and “push harder” and “speak out” and thereby persuade the American people to support this or that. Speak out where? Speak out to whom? How do you suggest he get a positive message out when he has no control over whether television, newspapers, or radio report the truth about what he is advocating?
WhiteHouse.gov has a wealth of information, true. And all the major presidential speeches are on YouTube and DailyKosTV and elsewhere on the internet. But let's remember there are still a LOT of people who either have no internet access, or their only access is dial-up, which makes watching speeches of any length difficult. Some of those people don't even have cable TV. And a great many local newspaper owners are Republicons also, who focus on local news, and if they give any space to national issues, they basically just reprint whatever AP sends them. And we all know how the AP has acted since Obama took office.
There. is. no. bully. pulpit. I will post that every single time I see anybody at Daily Kos complain about Obama not using it.
It is nonsense to keep insisting that Obama use something he does not have.