Howard Dean: The Obama Administration Has Misjudged America

Howard Dean was on CNN’s State Of The Union today where he diagnosed the problem with administration of Barack Obama. Dean claimed that while America likes Obama, “I think that the people around the president have really misjudged what goes on elsewhere in the country, other than Washington, D.C.”

State Of The Union host Candy Crowley asked Dean, “But certainly, you have voiced, on “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” and on the health care bill, some of the real misgivings that the left has had about some of the things the president has done. And it boils down to this, this fall, do you think the left sits home or do you think the left goes out to the polls? And what gets them there?”

Dean answered, “Well, look, I don’t think that the left — what Gibbs was talking about with the so-called professional left — I don’t know what he meant by that. You know, I think — but that is a very small number of people. I think there are a large number — I think that the people around the president have really misjudged what goes on elsewhere in the country, other than Washington, D.C.”

He continued, “I don’t think this is true of the president, but I do think his people, his political people, have got to go out and spend some time outside Washington for a while. The average Democrat is a progressive. And, you know, there are some things that are upsetting about the kind of deals that were made by the president’s people on health care.”

Long before healthcare reform, there have been tensions between Dean and the Obama people. Political Intelligence reported in 2009 that, “There were tensions, however, between Dean and Obama during the campaign. So Dean was a curious no-show when Obama made a victory lap last week at DNC headquarters to announce Virginia Governor Tim Kaine as the new chairman. While Obama praised Dean, he was at some party event in American Samoa, and some Democrats privately said that Obama’s team had asked him to stay away.”

Dean wanted a job in the Obama administration, and was passed over, and as soon as the public option was dropped Dean started publicly sniping at the administration. Even though Dean’s criticisms might not be coming from a neutral place, he still brought up an interesting point. While Obama has tried mightily to stay out of the presidential bubble, the rest of administration has not. It is rare that you see high level personnel in the Obama administration taking questions in person from the public. It is equally intriguing that even though Obama wanted a “Team of Rivals” style what he ended up with was a lot of like minded individuals with similar professional backgrounds on the economy.

While it is noble that this administration tries to do what is right over what is popular, there is a political price to be paid for unpopular decisions. I would argue that Dean is wrong. The main problem is not that the Obama administration is misjudging America, but it is that this administration has all too often let the opposition define the debate on the issues. They have done a poor job selling their ideas and accomplishments to the American people, so the result is that America likes Obama the person, but it does not give him credit for his accomplishments.

Most of all I think Howard Dean has seen his influence wane since Obama’s election, and he doesn’t like it. Dean made great points elsewhere in the interview about Democrats coming together before November, but in order for this to happen, Democrats like Dean need to embrace what Obama has done and stop complaining about what he still has yet to do. Use what Obama has accomplished as a stepping stone to greater things instead of feeding the bitterness of angry progressives.

13 Replies to “Howard Dean: The Obama Administration Has Misjudged America”

  1. Very balanced, excellent post.

    I agree. PO and/ or the people around him have not so much “misjudged what goes on elsewhere in the country,” but rather have misjudged the effect of GOP’s tactics ON the country.

    The right-wing’s nasty tactics are again in full swing right now with fear-mongering about the NYC Muslim Center. Although this issue seems to be confined or “local,” it’s not. Not only does this issue rally the GOP’s national base (and then some) against the president, but stirring up ethnocentrism and bigotry in this country is the true threat to our troops currently fighting in countries with Muslim populations. It plays right into the terrorists’ narratives about America. Nasty business.

  2. Excellent analysis as usual, Jason. I think you hit the nail on the head with this: “I would argue that Dean is wrong. The main problem is not that the Obama administration is misjudging America, but it is that this administration has all too often let the opposition define the debate on the issues.”

    That, as I see it, is exactly the problem. Whether this was due to a misplaced belief that the right would compromise or not, the administration surrendered the narrative and the initiative early on. Once that happens, it is very difficult to turn things around.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. It’s been more than difficult managing this 24 news cycle and Obama doesn’t have the press on lock down like Bush did, so we’ve made a 180.

    I can only hope that the American people wise up and that concurrently, the Obama administration learn how to frame the debate better. Obama did a great job of this while campaigning, but his style was not to frame upfront, but rather wait for the other side to shoot themselves in the foot. He may be doing that now as well…

    But down in the streets, the people are brawling.

  4. HOW did Obama let the GOP frame the debate? That’s the real question — and I’m not sure that it’s even really the most intellectually honest one because it implies sole culpability on the president’s part.

    –The GOP uses its vast network of friendly news (FOX, talk radio), political pundits, politicians, blogs, mailers, and ordinary citizens receiving and forwarding the same messages about PO, HCR, Muslims etc. They all sound very similar, even down to repeating the same stock phrases and talking points. Turn on the TV or radio, or visit a right-wing blog, you’ll hear the same false and inflammatory talking points.

    –The Democrats primarily use their networks to analyze and debate the issues (which is good, of course), but there is NOT the concentrated effort by Democratic SUPPORTERS in doing the same kind of CONSOLIDATED footwork as the GOP’s supporters. No doubt about it — the GOP has consolidation of message down to a fine point.

    How can PO and the Dems assert more control over the framing of the debate? That’s really the most important question. Using some of the tried-and-true tactics of the GOP (except with facts) may probably be the only way to counter the GOP’s tactics — but can Democrats actually unite for a longer period of time than it takes to get their candidate elected?

  5. Thanks Hraf,

    The big problem is that this administration for too long did not understand that no matter what they did, the Republicans were never, ever going to support them. They kept sticking with a narrative that all too often was out of step with the political realities, and this did nothing but infuriate their base.

  6. The framing of the debate has to take place as soon as an issue is taken up. The administration has used a final push strategy where they let bills be fought over in Congress and then use the President to deliver a final push when something is close to passage. This is great for passing legislation but terrible for politics.

    Most Americans don’t pay attention to the legislative process. The administration needs to put Obama out in front of the issues to frame the discussion before the opposition can counter, by letting the GOP organize and push their message for weeks, they give themselves an uphill battle.

    The Right may have Fox News and talk radio but they have not a single leader and nothing as strong for message delivery as the President of the United States and his bully pulpit. When Obama speaks it is news, and that’s why the closer role is a misuse of presidential authority, at least in my opinion.

  7. Hi Jason
    I recently spent time on another blog in which there was unending and uncivil intra-blog “discussion” about the just who comprised the “base.” Most bloggers on that site proclaimed that they are, and studies indicate that “they” are white, male, over fifty, and relatively well off. But then, I assumed “the base” is made up of the people I meet on various campaigns – all ages, rages, sexual identities, financial level, etc. This base I believe I’m learning about is very pleased with Obama. Scared about the future, but confident in his judgment. I do not want to bring up old battles – if they ARE here on this site, but I am curious as to your view about this matter. Thank you.

  8. I understand your points, but I’m not convinced that an “out front” strategy would be any more effective than the “final push” strategy. In fact, I think it’s wishful thinking. The GOP machine is as effective at diverting the debate as they are at framing the debate.

    In addition, the GOP has no scruples about using the basest of techniques — fear-mongering; hate-mongering; ethnocentric, xenophobic, racist dog whistles — to rally their base. When you’re able to engage people’s emotions, especially negative ones, you are tapping into the limbic system response system instead of cortical thinking. Folks held in thrall by this system of response won’t even listen to what PO or any other person says about rational ideas, whether before, during, or on a final push.

    A consolidated effort by Democrats (including the President) to counter the GOP’s tactics will be the only effective method of gaining control of the message to the public. PO could chant an endless loop every hour of every day on his framing of an issue, but unless his myriad of supporters are concurrently reinforcing his framing throughout the whole politico-public network, as well as vigorously countering the GOP’s misinformation, the Dems just won’t have the same power to influence the public debate as the GOP currently enjoys.

  9. {what follows is what I just observed while webbing}


    Eminent Australian theologian and church historian known worldwide as Professor Francis Nigel Lee (who has eleven earned doctorates!) has found claims in the Koran that may have escaped the attention of many Muslims including those in the White House.
    It’s amazing how often in history someone notices an unclear passage in the Bible, sees possibilities in it as a wellhead, isolates it and then backstabbingly uses it against the Bible’s intent while developing an anti-Biblical cult or false religion!
    Dr. Lee quotes the Koran which claims that when Jesus promised that after His departure He would send the Holy Spirit to be personally with His followers as the “Comforter” (John 14:16, John 15:26, etc.), Jesus was actually promising He would send them Mohammed! (Aside from the blasphemy, has history shown Mohammed and his fanatical followers to be “Comforters” of human beings?)
    Another quote from the Koran that Dr. Lee reveals is that the disciples of Jesus viewed themselves as “Muslims” – centuries before Mohammed was born!
    To read Dr. Lee’s scholarly and informative article “Islam in the Bible,” type in . Interestingly, leading Christian scholars for many centuries have viewed the 9th chapter of Revelation (with its references to a violent army of 200 million who torture mankind in earth’s final days, the centering on “the great river Euphrates,” and the connection to demons loosed from “the bottomless pit” who inhabit this army) as a scary portrait of Islam murdering, in a short period, one-third of earth’s population, as is explicitly stated there!
    Readers may also wish to Google “Imam Bloomberg’s Sharia Mosque” and “Michelle Obama’s Allah-day” since these two items have been in the news lately.

  10. Historically, the Book of Revelation does not look forward but speaks to the apocalyptic views of the community of Christians for which is was written. The misuse of that text to predict the “end times” is unforgivable. To further twist it (or the Koran) to advance the Islamophobia of the right is even worse. As a final note, each of the Gospels has a very different take on Jesus, his mission, and his nature. John, the last written, is the most theologically advanced, and scholars recognize that like Revelation, it speaks to the developing ideas of the community which authored it over a period of time. Context is everything

  11. A final observation which demonstrates my point more concretely:

    I changed my party registration to the Democratic party over two years ago, and have subsequently voted in local and national elections as a Democrat. To this day, I’ve never received any mailers or emails from the local, state, or national Democratic party. (I even emailed my state Democratic chapter and asked to be put on their email update lists on issues).

    In contrast, I continue to get mailers from the GOP. My husband who died eight years ago still gets mailers from the GOP, even though I’ve called and written on five separate occasions to inform them that he’s deceased. The last time I was so angry that I wrote directions to the cemetery where his grave is located so “they could could hit him up for a donation at the source.” Made no difference. Yes, I received Michael Steele’s bogus “Census” survey and Palin’s plea for money this year.

    The GOP is tenacious — even to the grave.

  12. I am really enjoying your comments, C.L., and I meant to write you back yesterday and tell you that I agree with your point. We should not be holding the President accountable for not debunking the Republican talking points and fear mongering. It would be impossible for him to do this every day and still govern the country, IMHO.

    But given that the Republicans are so tenacious, Democrats need to come up with a better counter to this — and some of the problem Democrats have is their inability to stay united long enough to do so. Of course, this opens a whole can of worms where some Democrats will say “but at least we’re not in lock step — we think!”, which is true….but frustrates me, because I want to say, “you think, but it stops at the critical point of strategy.”

    Great comments — interesting POV. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Another CT dem
    That was really interesting. I wonder if that helps explain the pundits take on things. Then again the most division I see is the hard left vs the average dem. Maybe this is location sensitive.

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