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Fire David Axelrod?

By: John Prothro

So I took the bait and clicked on the article titled “Fire David Axelrod.”  I thought the author, Dan Gerstein, would cite the problem with leaders surrounding themselves with sycophants and the pitfalls of being advised by pure political operators.  I resented Karl Rove’s intimate involvement in the Bush White House and now feel the same about Axelrod.  After an election, leaders should be prudent in their decision-making and stop campaigning.

But that wasn’t Gerstein’s point at all.  Instead he was upset that, according to a recent poll by Democracy Corps, 55% of Americans believe “socialist” is a suitable label for President Obama.  This “shocking” result was to Gerstein proof the President’s team had failed to adequately communicate its message. 

According to Gerstein, “most economists” (read, his three friends at Morgan Stanley) believe the stimulus was an economic savior rather than a wasteful slush fund that failed by the President’s own measure.  The health care reform package was a similar success; it was a moderate push for more coverage, rather than the first step toward government-run care and an assault on liberty. The public would know the truth, Gerstein reasons, had Obama fought against the “uncountered conservative message machine,” presumably with words crafted by Gerstein.

This article was inevitable.  When politicians fail—and especially liberal ones—sympathetic media often find a suitable scapegoat in communication.  Media types think their polished rhetoric is needed to turn things around, not a change in policy. What Gerstein and his peers don’t realize, however, is that after an election communication must precisely match policy.   When one governs, he can no longer hide behind his words.  His actions are on the front page every day, and people live the results.  If his words don’t match reality, voters notice.

Communication is not Obama’s problem.  Dishonesty is.  Obama says he believes in the free market, but he advances big government.  He says he’s focused on jobs, but he pushes job killing policies. At every step, he supports the state over the private sector, redistributing taxpayer dollars to fund pet projects and his idea of social justice.  All this meddling has some—a majority, in fact—wondering if Obama isn’t a socialist after all.

But instead of blaming Obama for this perception, Gerstein prefers to blame Axelrod and by extension the American people.  Implicit in this argument is the assumption that voters have it all wrong; they've been duped by the opposition.  If only Axelrod had explained Obama more clearly, the simple-minded masses would have never misunderstood their leader.

I’ve argued before that Obama is not a socialist in the pure sense; I believe he’s more of an interventionist—one who knows the value of the free market but believes it is his job to right its wrongs. Obama is smart enough to know public ownership of the means of production doesn’t work, but he’s arrogant enough to think under his leadership there are exceptions. 

This isn't socialism, but it's awfully close.  And the American people shouldn't have to make the distinction.