One of the quirkier pleasures of our home life is daily paper delivery of the Wall Street Journal. Pi Wen has been a subscriber to the Journal for a while, and now I enjoy the benefits. It seems very unlikely that I will ever be a captain of industry, and so I'm not really the prime demographic. But I do appreciate the peek at (mostly) hard right political thinking on the opinion pages.
Two weeks ago, arguing from the right, Bret Stephens claimed that President Obama isn't that smart and stated, "In politics, a failure of communication is always the fault of the communicator." Today, Mortimer Zuckerman took a more centrist tack to criticize the President, but echoed Stephens with this: "But in politics, a failure of communication is invariably the fault of the communicator."
There is no doubt that President Obama can be too aloof, too remote, unable or unwilling to jump into the fray. He's claimed that he will offer a bold jobs plan come September, and I hope he does.
That said, it's not fair to rest all the blame for a failure of communication on him. This absolves the President's listeners of all responsibility, and assumes that these listeners are listening in good faith in the first place. In politics-or at least the public, theatrical elements of politics--good faith listening to another perspective is not required or even encouraged. Zuckerman and Stephens's theory of communication rests upon the notion of a listening audience that actually might change its mind. Herein lies the flaw in their critiques.
In my own work, I've often struggled to persuade staff or administrators of the rationale for a new initiative or different approach to doing something than has been tried before. This is a big part of the job, and after a particularly hard day I am tempted to wonder why people just don't see the light. But the difference in my case is that I can trust the good faith and good will of my people. So if there is a failure of communication at this level, it really is my fault.
Not so for the President, and this is true whoever they are.