Ezra Klein: ‘The White House No Longer Believes Obama Can Bridge Divides. They Believe…He Widens Them’

The major left-right disagreement regarding President Obama as a speechmaker hasn’t been over whether he’s talented (most conservatives concede he’s got a flair) but over whether he’s effective. Now, however, Ezra Klein thinks that a certain key group of liberals has lost confidence that Obama speeches in general, and specifically one about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, would bring about the desired results. This group is known as...the Obama administration.

“If Obama's speeches aren't as dramatic as they used to be,” wrote Klein in a Monday post on Vox, “this is why: the White House believes a presidential speech on a politically charged topic is as likely to make things worse as to make things better. It is as likely to infuriate conservatives as it is to inspire liberals. And in a country riven by political polarization, widening that divide can take hard problems and make them impossible problems.”

From Klein’s piece (emphasis added):

President Obama's statement [Monday] on Ferguson…was clinical. His delivery was understated. He seemed to be trying to avoid headlines…

…Eric Holder will be traveling to Ferguson — which mostly highlights that Obama has not traveled to Ferguson, and has no plans to do so…

Obama's supporters aren't asking for anything Obama can't do — or even anything he hasn't done before. Obama was elected president because he seemed, alone among American politicians, to be able to bridge the deep divides in American politics. The [2004 DNC] speech that rocketed him into national life was about bridging the red-blue divide. The [2008] speech that sealed his nomination was about bridging the racial divide. That speech, born of [the Jeremiah Wright] crisis that could have ended Obama's presidential campaign, is remembered by both his supporters and even many of his detractors as his finest moment. That was the speech where Obama seemed capable of something different, something more, than other politicians. In the White House, it's simply called "the Race Speech." And there are no plans to repeat it.

The problem is the White House no longer believes Obama can bridge divides. They believe — with good reason — that he widens them. They learned this early in his presidency, when Obama said that the police had "acted stupidly" when they arrested Harvard University professor Skip Gates on the porch of his own home.The backlash was fierce…


…[S]ince Obama's election, racially charged controversies have begun to sharply split Republicans and Democrats. [There was a] massive divide on the [George] Zimmerman verdict…

…Obama's supporters often want to see their president "leading," but the White House knows that when Obama leads, his critics become even less likely to follow…

If Obama's speeches aren't as dramatic as they used to be, this is why: the White House believes a presidential speech on a politically charged topic is as likely to make things worse as to make things better. It is as likely to infuriate conservatives as it is to inspire liberals. And in a country riven by political polarization, widening that divide can take hard problems and make them impossible problems.

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters