Note: This column appeared in The Times (of Northwest Indiana) on October 2, 2009.
Just like there’s no “I” in team, neither is there in Barack Obama. Yet, still, when it comes to selling the goals of the administration to the American people and the world, only one person has stood on the soapbox to do the talking.
Since taking office, the instances where Team Obama has successfully used surrogates — Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials — have been few and far between. Surrogates are supposed to be a president’s best friend. They are hard-working and dedicated folks meant to serve as expert witnesses on the major issues confronting the administration. Not only are they essential in crafting policy, but they also serve a purpose in expanding support for ideas beyond the Beltway by hitting the road and hitting the airwaves.
And while Obama has some great surrogates on his team’s roster he isn’t using them — at all.
Two weeks ago, Obama announced on the South Lawn of the White House — amid great fanfare — that Mrs. Obama would head to Copenhagen to make the final pitch for Chicago’s Olympic bid in front of the International Olympic Committee. Sure enough, in the end, he couldn’t even delegate to her and announced this past Monday that he would go do it himself.
It’s not the first instance of an increasingly concerning trend.
Surrogates were out in full force on swine flu when it first hit this past spring but have been conspicuously absent on other high profile issues including health care. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of Health and Human Services made high-profile appearances at a few town halls over the summer but has been hiding since.
The lack of delegating tasks on Obama’s part will ultimately lead to him losing focus, burning out and becoming overexposed, assuming he hasn’t already.
He’s definitely already lost focus, and folks are noticing. In the latest edition of Newsweek, Howard Fineman begs Obama to stop it with the television appearances and get to the business of governing. While Obama has been plugging his health care plans through every medium conceivable, he’s dropped the ball on Afghanistan. Delegating the tasks of doing interviews and attending town hall meetings would help him focus on the growing number of issues on his plate.
We have to wonder if perhaps the communications folks are concerned that members of their team just can’t stay on message. They have a right to be worried, considering the last time Sebelius was out she shunned the public option as a necessity, and thus contradicted a major selling point for her side. And Vice President Joe Biden, during the first swine flu season, went on the Today show to urge Americans to stay away from public transportation.
Or maybe they can’t get out of their campaign mindset. They believe Obama is the best salesman they’ve got. He’s got the name recognition, obviously, as well as the ability to talk about the issues, so why use anyone else?