New Years Resulutions
The perils of exaggeration

People as props

Middleclass_backdrop_ap_328Most people who read these posts know I'm a strong supporter of President Obama.

But even he occasionally does something that makes me wonder what he's thinking.

The latest example is the backdrop of "typical middle Americans" his staff rolled out for Monday's speech on the fiscal cliff legislation then working its tortuous way through Congress.

It's a background he's used repeatedly through the recent presidential campaign. A lineup of awkwardly posed "average Americans" has become a fixture of Obama speeches as common as the presidential seal.

It might have worked the first few dozen times, but now it's a tired, cringe-worthy cliche. Turning people into stage props is not only un-presidential, it borders on the cynical.

As it turns out, the people/props behind Obama on this occasion were all campaign volunteers selected for their mix of genders, ages, and ethnicities. (No word on whether the White House asked to see their W-2s to ensure that they were really middle class.)

My daughter agrees, but suggests the line of people willing to be used in just this way would probably wrap around the National Mall and to Baltimore and back.

Maybe so. After all, they did get a chance to have their photo taken with the president afterwards.

But I was just embarrassed by the whole thing. I suspect many others were too.

Sadly, there once was a time when President Obama would have felt the same way.









How would you get across the idea that the fiscal cliff is not something theoretical and abstract? That it will have real effects on real middle class people? Soon enough we'll find out what those effects are, but President Obama was trying to avoid that. The technique may not be effective, but I don't think it was cynical or even bordering on cynical. What would you propose?

Thanks for the comment, Rick. You make a good point -- using "typical Americans" as a backdrop was clearly intended to communicate that the fiscal cliff would have real impact on real people. The president even referred to the impact on "people like these" several times. But I don't think it was necessary and, through over-use, has lost even the minimal effect desired. Worse, this kind of pseudo-event has displaced rational argument in the political process. Clinton's speech at the Democratic convention was far more powerful, both emotionally and rationally, and didn't rely on a stunt like this.

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