CNN's White House Spin: Obama Running 'Anti-Rose Garden' Campaign

CNN on Monday provided a rosy look at President Obama's efforts to campaign for re-election, touting that the President is distancing himself from Washington in an "anti-Rose Garden" campaign. Ironically, a few minutes later Obama was scheduled to speak in the Rose Garden itself.

In reporting on Obama's efforts to wash his hands of Washington, CNN had ignored his harsh partisan rhetoric toward Republicans in October as he was promoting his jobs bill in the heartland. Obama said Republicans want "dirtier air" and "dirtier water" on one particular tour stop, and has been regularly hitting Republicans for not supporting his jobs bill.

In her segment at the end of the 11 a.m. hour, White House correspondent Jessica Yellin noted that the President, "[b]urned by Washington gridlock," is spurning traditional symbols of presidential power like the Great Seal, the Rose Garden, or Air Force One in favor of bus tours, rolled-up shirt sleeves, and small town appearances.  

"The image mirrors the message," Yellin said of Obama in what was quite a homey look at the President and his efforts to reach out to ordinary Americans.

However, CNN's Don Lemon had enough sense to note that Obama was scheduled to speak shortly afterword in the Rose Garden. Yellin admitted as much. "I know, funny timing, right?" she said, before explaining that Obama would be speaking of executive action and not congressional inaction or partisan politics.

Republican pollster Whit Ayers also threw some cold water on CNN's perspective. "The problem is that he's the head of the government in Washington, and his party controls half the Congress in Washington," Ayers said of Obama.

"It just becomes a very, very difficult sell to the American people to persuade them that the head of the Democratic Party that controls the Senate, and the head of the entire government, is running against the government that he heads."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on November 7 at 11:55 a.m. EST, is follows:

[11:55]

DON LEMON: You would think running for re-election as President would give you certain advantages over your opponents. The image and the trappings of the office provide a platform the other contenders don't have. But with the bitter partisan climate in Washington these days, President Obama is taking a different approach. The story now from CNN's Jessica Yellin.

(Video Clip)

JESSICA YELLIN: Whether it's Air Force One –

(Applause)

YELLIN: – "Hail to the Chief" –

(Music playing)

YELLIN: – or even the White House itself –

Former President GEORGE H. W. BUSH: This crisp, cool day in the Rose Garden –

YELLIN: – part of the re-election playbook is leveraging the power and prestige of the presidency to overshadow your opponent. Though it hasn't always worked, the so-called "Rose Garden strategy" has been deployed by most modern presidents.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, presidential historian: Most of the predecessors of Barack Obama would use the White House as a staging platform. They want to remind people that they are the commander-in-chief. That there's just an inherent power in seeing the – the Great Seal of the United States behind you from the White House.

YELLIN: Burned by Washington gridlock, President Obama is taking a different approach.

ANITA DUNN, former White House communications director: Washington right now is politically as toxic as you can get, and as most people can remember it being. I think the President enjoys going out and talking to the American people.

YELLIN: So over the past three months he's repeatedly hit the road to small towns, looking more like candidate Obama than Commander-In-Chief, often ditching Air Force One for a bus, rolling up his shirt sleeves.


(Music Playing: "City of Blinding Lights," U2)

YELLIN: Sometimes skipping "Hail to the Chief" altogether.

President BARACK OBAMA: (Posing with children) Everybody say cheese!

YELLIN: The image mirrors the message.

OBAMA: It was time to get out of Washington.

YELLIN: The President wants to distance himself from Washington and the partisan politics that he promised, but failed to fix.

OBAMA: Some folks in Washington don't seem to be listening.

What's broken is our politics.

The problem is is that we've got the kind of partisan brinksmanship that is willing to put party ahead of country.

YELLIN: You'll hear him say throughout the campaign that he's tried to fight the gridlock, something he explained at a recent press conference.

OBAMA: I used up a lot of political capital, and I've got the dings and bruises to prove it.

YELLIN: Democrats say this message can work.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN contributor: He can go out there and say, I've been trying to change the system, I've been fighting the established order, I'm pushing my jobs bill, which is really, I think, the best thing he's got going for him right now.

YELLIN: But Republicans are already building a case against him.

WHIT AYERS, Republican pollster: The problem is that he's the head of the government in Washington, and his party controls half the Congress in Washington. It just becomes a very, very difficult sell to the American people to persuade them that the head of the Democratic Party that controls the Senate, and the head of the entire government, is running against the government that he heads.

(End Video Clip)

LEMON: It's interesting. Jessica Yellin joins us now live from the White House. I say it's interesting because a politician in Washington separating himself from politics in Washington. Does the Obama campaign think this anti-Rose Garden strategy is working for them?

YELLIN: Well Don, in some polls, one poll in particular, the Quinnipiac poll, you do see his numbers inching up already over the last month. Other polls are mixed, but they argue it'll take time for the message to break through, but they do think it works. Their argument is that repetition of his message, distancing himself from Washington both physically and through his words, and through repeating his vision for the future, that he can make the case to voters that his project to break the gridlock in Washington is not a failure, it's just still in the works, and that voters should give him more time to let him finish the project. Don?

LEMON: Alright Jessica. Despite the anti-Rose Garden strategy, we expect to hear from the President in the Rose Garden at the top of the hour. What's he talking about?

YELLIN: I know, funny timing, right?

LEMON: Yeah.

YELLIN: Yeah. You know, he can't disown the presidency. And – because he is President, so you do see him using the building, and he will be here today in the Rose Garden. But his primary strategy of reaching the voters is out there in the field. That's why he's going to Philadelphia tomorrow. When he's here at the Rose Garden today, he'll be talking about executive actions he's taking to help veterans, and I'll point out that these are actions that he can take without Congress. So even when he's in the Rose Garden, he's physically – actually distancing himself from the other power center in Washington, Congress. So yes, the Rose Garden, but again, separating himself in some ways from the other power center in Washington, Don?

LEMON: So it's like if a tree falls in the woods, it's – okay. (Laughing)

Is it actually in the woods? Did it fall?

YELLIN: Washington – President against Washington.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014