MOST SUNDAYS, President Obama faces two obstacles: One is his administration’s own fault, for not putting forceful and knowledgeable policy advocates on the influential morning TV shows. The other is the networks’ fault, for booking a preponderance of Republican and right-wing talkers.
The Davids. Sometimes it seems like the only Obama representatives on the Sunday shows are political operatives David Axelrod and David Plouffe. They are both very good at running a sophisticated, national campaign. But they are not policy experts or cabinet secretaries or particularly good on TV. I’d rather hear about jobs from former labor secretary Robert Reich, who has national standing and doesn’t get sucked into the political muck of polling, positioning, swing states, etc. By contrast, can you even name Obama’s secretary of labor? Google says it’s Hilda Solis.
The Clintons. Bill Clinton, it’s been said, can talk a dog off a meat wagon. Throw him a bone and let him promote his book and bury Obama’s opponents. The single most effective Obama cabinet talker is Hillary Clinton, who almost always makes good news. A few weeks ago, she scored four of a kind: ABC, CNN, Fox, and NBC, in the wake of Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy’s death.
Two treasurers. Bill Clinton used highly regarded Wall Street guru and treasury secretary Robert Rubin to speak on the economy. In contrast, Obama’s treasurer, Tim Geithner, offers grudging, tight-lipped, jargon-filled verbiage. One observer noted, “Some of what he says goes by you too quickly to grasp, and some of it never makes it completely out of his mouth.’’
Seven in ten. Roll Call newspaper, which tracks politicians on the five Sunday talk shows, found that from January to November, the most frequent guests were Republicans Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsay Graham, and Representative Michele Bachmann. Number four was Democratic Senator Richard Durbin. In the top 10, there were seven Republicans, two Democrats, and one independent. This doesn’t count regular conservative political analysts such as George Will, who takes two minutes to say it’s raining outside and whose wife works for Rick Perry.
Won’t they ever leave? Talk show producers force us to endure Republican has-beens Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Rudy Giuliani, who attack the “Democrat’’ administration in vain attempts to clean up their reputations.
These shows matter. At “Meet the Press,’’ NBC, average viewership is 3 million; “Face the Nation,’’ CBS, 2.6 million; “This Week,’’ ABC, 2.1 million. On cable, “Fox News Sunday’’ has 1.2 million viewers and CNN’s “State of the Union’’ gets half that. If influential people don’t catch these shows live, they’ll hear about them on Monday morning news.
Murdoch’s influence. A “Meet the Press’’ panel last week consisted of a member of the doggedly right-wing editorial board of Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, a writer for Politico who came from Murdoch’s New York Post, Republican consultant Alex Castellanos, and Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,’’ who giddily plugged his new book.
Bad news about good news. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC angrily pointed out that, when the Obama administration had hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden, the Sunday shows had three times as many Republican guests as Democrats.
The Grinch and other nonsense. ABC political reporter Jonathan Karl last Sunday called the president “The Grinch’’ for trying to tax fresh-cut Christmas trees(!) In fact, tree growers asked the government for permission to assess themselves a fee of 15 cents per tree to raise funds to promote their struggling industry. Other producers have done likewise for years: “Got milk?’’ “Pork, the other white meat.’’ No one said the White House was taxing pigs. When Drudge and other right-wing hysterics began screaming that “Obama wants to tax Christmas,’’ the administration stopped the plan, which was in the works before Obama became president.
The increasingly desperate Michele Bachmann, who is polling at 5 percent in polls on the Republican presidential race, told “Meet the Press’’ that Obama “is allowing the ACLU to run the CIA,’’ because waterboarding has been halted. The Donald used CNN’s Sunday show to peddle his birther nonsense.
And you wonder where all the crazy stuff about Obama comes from.
Dan Payne is a Boston-based Democratic analyst who has worked for Democratic candidates around the country; he does political commentary for WBUR radio.