It’s interesting to see the media turning on U.S. President Barack Obama for not dealing with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite several trips to the gulf and some harsh criticism of BP Oil, there is a growing perception that Obama is not up to the task. It has also started to show in falling approval ratings.
I think the reason is simply that he hasn’t been seen to be doing anything. In the world of jurisprudence, there is an axiom that “justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.” Obama, as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd points out, is an elitist and cares more about what he’s doing than what he is seen to be doing. That’s a mistake.
When Ronald Reagan was the American president, he was seen to be doing probably more than he actually was doing thanks to his deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver, who essentially invented the presidential “photo-op”.
Deaver made sure the media had pictures and video of Reagan on the Great Wall of China, the beaches of Normandy for the 40th anniversary of the invasion and in a Boston Irish pub with a beer in his hand. We may not have known exactly what Reagan was doing but the pictures that Deaver produced led us to believe that he had the situation under control.
Obama’s team did a terrific job during the election of using new media and video to work him into the American consciousness. But the architect of that success, David Plouffe, is no longer on Obama’s staff.
Although he later fell from grace when he was convicted of perjury, Deaver’s days in the White House showed his ability to burnish the presidential image through the careful creation of visuals that enhanced the president. He was quoted in the New York Times as saying “if things start not working, people are going to say, ‘Get off your rear, quit talking and do something about it.’” .
Part of getting past any crisis is showing people that something is being done and that you are working hard to fix the situation. Obama may be working hard but the American people aren’t seeing any evidence of it.
Deaver would have had him in gumboots, cleaning an oily pelican on a Louisiana beach instead of talking at a news conference. It may seem cliché but a picture really is worth a thousand words.