The Obama administration’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs has announced his resignation effective in early February. According to the Washington Post, Gibbs will spend his time on the lecture circuit and join President Obama’s re-election campaign.
Gibbs could be replaced by current Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton. Burton served as the national press secretary during then Senator Obama’s presidential campaign and has held communication positions with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other members of Congress. He is young (33-years-old), quite capable, experienced, and African-American. Like President Obama, Burton’s father is black and his mother is white.
Burton has proven to be well prepared in the instances that he has conducted press briefings in place of his boss Robert Gibbs. Having served in his boss’ stead, Bill Burton is thought to be the first African-American to have spoken from the press secretary’s podium on behalf of the president. If selected to replace Gibbs, Burton would become the first African-American to serve as White House Press Secretary.
With the election of Illinois Senator Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, America took a giant leap forward in its battle with race. If selected to replace Gibbs, Burton’s appointment will prove to be a subtle yet another significant step in the right direction. Having an African-American as the spokesman for the administration and the president is a big deal and a good thing but any focus on Burton’s ethnicity will quickly pass.
The Press Secretary is not solely responsible for creating the message but is the person who articulates it. What would make Bill Burton successful in the position is his easy going nature and the fact that he comes to the podium with a slightly more direct style than Robert Gibbs. Still, what ultimately will make Bill Burton successful as Press Secretary is the message.
As the Obama administration gears up for the contentious ideological and issue driven debates with the Republican led Congress and weakened Democratic majority in the Senate, it will be the message that matters more than the messenger. Can the administration do a better job going forward of crafting a clear, concise, message that speaks to the president’s base and addresses the fears and concerns of the American people?
For the past ten years the Democrats have allowed Republicans to control the political narrative. Right wing ideologues have hijacked American politics and policy. The so-called Reagan Republicans or neo-conservatives have co-opted both American domestic and foreign policy. At the same time, Christian social conservatives have controlled the parties’ social agenda in an attempt to redefine American values.
The Bush-43 administration hired pollsters like Frank Luntz to help craft language to package and sell policies to the American people such as tax cuts for the wealthy and government deregulation that have contributed to if not caused many of the problems the country grapples with today. They effectively sold the electorate ideological babble such as “compassionate conservatism,” “American internationalism,” “ownership society,” and the “war on terror”.
President Obama has conceded that up to this point he has lost the battle of ideas and allowed conservatives to control the narrative. Republicans and conservative Democrats have been allowed to turn greater access to health care into “Obama Care”. They campaigned on lowering the debt and deficit but held out for tax breaks that will add almost $1 trillion to the deficit. They’ve portrayed their unwillingness to provide viable policy alternatives and work with the administration in the best interest of Americans as admirable.
Going forward the administration needs to clearly define its focus. Stimulating job growth, domestic economic stability, and stability in Afghanistan should be at the top of the list. The administration should work with their allies in Congress to ensure that they have a clear and coordinated message. The president and his allies (both in Congress and outside of government) need to quickly respond when the conservative “spin machine” attempts to rewrite history and confuse the public with misinformation and lies.
President Obama has tried to find common ground with those who have refused him at almost every turn. Dr. King once said, “Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” He must now take the lead and regain control of the message, the narrative and addresses the fears and concerns of the American people.
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues With Wilmer Leon,” and a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.