A Little Less Talk And A Lot More Action

Obama has been a president defined by speeches. But if the old adages are true, that “actions speak louder than words” and “talk is cheap,” Obama must rise above rhetoric and get something done.

Every crucial moment and every tough decision of the Obama presidency has been accompanied by a speech. As, The Australian wrote of Obama,

Obama makes uniformly brilliant speeches. His presidency is so far more defined by speeches than any previous presidency. In his big foreign policy speeches you can often discern an internal tension, even struggle, between the postmodern pieties with their characteristic high-toned vagueness, and the hard-nut realism of Chicago.

Moreover, they’ve worked. Whenever Barack Obama opens his mouth you can be sure that it will be accompanied by some positive movement in the polls. For instance,

  • Following a speech in September, a CBS poll showed a 12% jump in how people perceived Obama’s handling of health care – from 40% to 52% approval
  • After a speech to Congress in February, Obama’s “approval ratings , as well as his likeability, believability and sincerity, increasing among all parties”
  • Obama’s speech at West Point, laying out his Afghanistan strategy, boosted the number of people who approved of his handling of Afghanistan from 41% to 49%

This jump in support is not the norm. A study by political scientist George Edwards concluded that,

“…[S]tatistically significant changes in approval rarely follow a televised presidential address. Typically, the president’s ratings hardly move at all. Most changes are well within the margin of error— and many of them show a loss of approval.

That Obama can influence the polls with a speech speaks to the level that people want to believe him. He is able to sound both smart and unassuming. He is a master of both diction and cadence. If words and promises made up the entire job description there is no doubt his presidency would be among the most accomplished. But in the end, none of this matters. Like Peyton Manning facing the Jets defense, people will eventually figure it out, and then…game over.

Last night’s State of the Union resurrected many of the ideas and promises that Obama made during his campaign. Should we expect a different outcome? Obama promised that the stimulus plan “would create up to 4 million new jobs, 90 percent of which will be generated by the private sector.” As to health care reform he said that “the only thing we’re going to try to do is lower costs.”  On earmark reform he quipped that “when I’m president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely.” The point being that Obama talks a big game, but rarely follows through. Even Nancy Pelosi has taken a swipe Obama’s failure to turn words into action, saying “”[t]here are a number of things he was for on the campaign trail.”

But, Barack the-boy-who-cried-wolf Obama must now act, lest his latest grandiose speech become nothing more than another attempt to score as many political points as possible. The polls show that the strategy has worked thus far. In Year One voters have been content to support the nice-sounding but vague plans that Obama and the Democratic leadership have for the real life problems we face. But people, along with rank and file Congressional Democrats, are growing impatient with Barack Obama. If all Obama can accomplish is talk, there is a deep bench of Republicans ready to get into the game in 2010.

– Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee

Read more: www.crnc.org