The New York Times today ran an essay by Peter Baker about the Hope Train. Well, not exactly. He didn’t mention the term Hope Train. But it’s a look at the challenge President Obama has in communicating confidence to the American people, at the same time he correctly manages our expectations for the timing of economic recovery.
Baker’s essay quotes White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s regarding his insider’s view of the debate that took place inside the White House regarding when and how-much they should “project confidence.” I believe the posts I’ve categorized as “Hope Train” provide a pretty good indicator of the timing with which Obama administration officials decided to turn from fear to hope.
Interestingly, the essay includes comparisons to past Presidents I have mentioned in these Hope Train posts, specifically: Roosevelt, REagan and Jimmy Carter. Here’s an example:
“Regardless of how much credit they really deserve, Roosevelt and Reagan, or their legends, certainly have driven successive presidents to focus on their tone, knowing that they will be judged on it. George W. Bush projected steady assurance in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But his relentlessly upbeat assessments of the war in Iraq later made him seem disconnected until he eventually acknowledged that the war was going badly and changed his strategy.
“People just stopped believing him after a while,” said Alan Brinkley, the provost of Columbia University and a presidential historian. “Obama’s different from Roosevelt and Reagan in that he’s kind of cool and calm and yet he can also be very charismatic. I think the sense of calm and reason is what makes people trust him. He doesn’t have the ebullient enthusiasm that Roosevelt had and Reagan had, but it’s a different kind of confidence.””
Provost Brinkley, in that quote, exhibits why those who study history are not always good at judging “the present.” While Obama may not posses ebullient enthusiasm (I disagree with that assessment), he has exhibited the ability (in historic terms) to illicit ebullient enthusiasm from his supporters. His style is not what matters — it’s the response.