President Obama is fresh off his weekend media blitz and is steadily continuing his push for health care reform. To add to the president's busy agenda, General McChrystal says he thinks more troops will be needed in Afghanistan but the president doesn't appear to be in a hurry to send in reinforcements.
CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN's "American Morning" Monday.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/21/gergen.obama.art.jpg caption="David Gergen says he doesn't think Obama's media blitz broke much new ground."]
Kiran Chetry:As we know, the president blanketed the television airwaves yesterday in defense of his health care reform effort. Did he break anymore new ground in your opinion?
David Gergen: I don't think he broke much new ground. He reached some people who might not otherwise have seen his big speech to the joint session. The audience numbers for that joint session speech were down, from 52 million from his first joint session to about 32 million then. So he needed to pick up some audience.
I think he gave himself a little insulation. He's going into a foreign policy period here over the next 10 days or so and I think they wanted to keep the momentum going in the White House.
But he did it at great risk to, you know, his viewability, if you would like, to his ratings, or whatever you would call them, because he's been out so often. The overexposure is dramatic.
Chetry: Oh, so you think – because there's been a debate whether there is such a thing of overexposure in this 24-hour digital world. You think there was some risk of that?
Gergen: I understand those who say we've got such a fractured media world that you've got to appear many, many times. I don't buy that and I think you see it in the numbers. And that is, over the course of this past year, since he took office in January, he's appeared more times in prime time television than any other president in history by some measure.
And what we're seeing is, both in the press conference and in the joint session speeches, the audience size is diminishing and has diminished quite sharply, over 40 percent in the case of the joint session. So I think you pay a price. I understand why he feels he needs to do it, but I do think he pays a price with the public in terms of being in the living room so often, people can't hit a mute button. People do want to hear from Barack Obama, but even the most popular television shows, if you re-run them too many times, people don't listen.
Chetry:Senator Graham came out and said it's not because it's the president out there speaking, it's because people, as he put it, aren't buying and he's selling something that people aren't buying. And he went on to say he's been on everything but the Food Channel. But some of the other criticisms that came from just people who conducted the interview were, it was still short on specific. And part of the reason why is he's not writing the bill himself.
But when questions came up about various things and various groups' concerns, whether or not middle class families will end up being taxed or penalized under this, and some of the other questions and concerns out there, did he do a good enough job answering it to people's satisfaction who already have health insurance?
Gergen: I doubt he won over many people opposed to it. He may have won some people who were wavering in the middle with these interviews. I frankly doubt many people saw more than one. He did five and I thought that was about four too many in terms of getting a message out.
But he was also, because it was so repetitive, he tended to get questions that were a little aggressive, say, whether this plan to put extra fees from insurance companies and to require people to buy insurance, whether those don't amount, as some of his own Democrats have said, to new tax increases on the middle class, something he obviously pledged he wouldn't do.
So I think he got himself into - he was a little bit on the defensive at times. But the other part of this, coming out of these interviews, it seems to me the story that's really growing now in significance is this Afghan story, because I was - he did break ground in these interviews in saying he was now skeptical about putting more troops into Afghanistan.
He has not gone that far before. He's had a very high bar. And within 24 hours, we had the leak of this long memo from General McChrystal, a hand-picked general in Afghanistan, saying if you don't increase troops by substantial amount, you risk mission failure. And "risking mission failure" is a very strong term. So he's now got himself - with his statement about being skeptical and the leak, it puts him in a bit of a box.
Chetry: Well, speaking of that, being put in a box, add on to that the opinion polls, the latest one we have from CNN, shows only 39 percent of people are in favor of a war in Afghanistan right now. They kind of see it as – not really looking like it can be a successful mission, either way. So what does he do then?
Gergen: Well, Kiran, that's exactly the point now, because if he now refuses to put more troops in after saying this is a war we must win earlier on, after saying this was a necessary war, if he refuses to put more troops in, he risks looking as if he's buckled to public opinion and to the left wing of his party.
If he goes ahead and puts more troops in after saying he's skeptical, then it looks like he's buckled to the generals. And so in that sense, I think that becomes a no-win proposition for him. You know, Bob Gates has helped him. Maybe he can find a way to smooth out that tension. But at this moment I think that there's a real clash between the skepticism and McChrystal saying, you don't do it, you get mission failure.
And that is not a good place for a president to be. And I think that that's why there's – you know, the press is going to go where there's a lot of tension in a story, and there is tension in this Afghan story right now.