American Morning

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September 21st, 2009
11:56 AM ET

David Gergen: Obama's overexposure is dramatic

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.


Filed under: American Morning
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Dr. Clarence Rucker

    If it ain't one thing it is another. Whoever the enemy is to this country, they are having a wonderful time watching us destroy ourselves. It is fine to report the NEWS, but when the ignorance come in is when they start "Speculating." A court of law do not let one speculate. EX: The President is going to speak tonight about the economy. But, will it be enough? Let us hear from our experts...Blah...Blah...Blah.

    Then the other station, the President, just in case you did not know, will not say what he is suppose to say. He must be angry. When you look at him he looks racist doesn't he? This is our country, if we cannot pull together with our leaders (At least try first), has it popped in our intelligent minds that we are devaluing ourselves. We need each other.

    September 23, 2009 at 12:22 am |
  2. Sandra

    Not everyone knew the entire American healthcare system was broken. Unless you've personally had difficulties with insurance claims and or negative interactions with doctors and hospitals, I believe that most of us had no idea that the entire system needed overhaul. I, personally, have never experienced any problems with my employer based health care insurance over the past 40 years. Although premiums have increased, to me any adjustments were in proportion to all other living expense increases. Therefore, until the present debate became rabid I and, I'm sure many ohers, had no idea the healthcare industry was in such dire straits. Now that I've become aware of the situation, I agree that something needs to be done to correct it. I just think that it needs to be done in increments that will be palatable for the majority of Americans. All this bickering is getting us nowhere and is causing too much division in our country. The President is trying to promote his agenda but I think he's giving the majority of Americans too much credit for being able to understand and digest his message. KISS!! (Keep it simple, stupid). I think the President needs to bring his language down to a level that the average American can understand it. Where in his explanation of healthcare reform is a catch phrase equivelant to the "Death Panels" that got too much attention this summer?

    September 22, 2009 at 10:30 pm |
  3. arthur tanney

    Recently there was a post here deriding the health care system and placing the blame for all woes on capitalism-the writer claiming all eveil soprings from the fact that it is a for profit system. I have never before heard such dribble and nonsense. Capitalism was and is the basis for our free market economy. You do NOT throw the baby ou with the bath water. Albeit we need to elook all the regulation and oversight that was tripped away yunder Reagan and the Bushes, but that uis not to say we should remove the incentive driven work place....temper it, yes.....lighten it, perhaps.....eliminate it? No way.....

    September 22, 2009 at 5:20 pm |
  4. arthur tanney

    Who can attest to not feeling a great relief in observing our President act on an international stage without illiciting the dread fear of maximum embarrasment in the mispronunciation of words, the mangling of phrases, the exhibition of a Wyatt Earp cowboy arrogance, the buffonish strut and stride of the 43rd President? Whether one is in full concert with President Obama's views and opinions, it is refreshingly relieving to know he will speak intelligently, thoughtfully, respectfully, and approach each issue and question with an inquisitive, first rate mind and a deep rooted intellect. Finally, a President in the mold of Adams, Monroe, Jeffeerson, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy.......Instead of Moe, Larry and Curly (OK, I apologize to Moe, Larry and Curly).....

    September 22, 2009 at 2:50 pm |
  5. Linda in CA

    Yes, perhaps the President should simplify his speech. However, anyone paying attention already knows the health care system is broke: and what the president and others are proposing will not reform/fix what is wrong. Reform indicates that there is something there that works. None of it works. Why? BECAUSE IT IS A FOR PROFIT BUSINESS! As long as healthcare remains a for profit business, costs will skyrocket, care will be rationed (not enough money in the system to cover everyone for everything) and there will continue to be a shortage of docs and nurses. That's just for starters. This is not fear mongering – it is already going on. You can't reform a system that does not work to begin with. Real reform means chucking the current system and going back to non-profit. The care of a sick individual should be in the hands of that individual, his family and the family doctor. Not a for profit business or insurance company. It certainly worked for us in the 50's – 70's before this insurance/for profit nonsense took root. Additionally, if the individual were once again responsible for his own healthcare in a true sense, he might make better decisions about how to treat his body, mind, soul and spirit.

    September 22, 2009 at 1:47 pm |
  6. arthur tanney

    Regretably, my eldest daughter, 26, suffers from a chrnic digestive disease-Crohn's Disease. She was first diagnosed as a sophomore in college and has had many, many bouts since. She is hospitalized on average 2 to 3 times a year, for periods of a day to a week. There is no cure for this illness, which is akin to ulcerative colitis-only a variety of different drug therapies and, in severe cases, surgery. I am fortunate in that I have always had comprehensive health insurance, as has she. Still, although my premiums exceed $2K per month, we have consistently neeed to battle our carrier(s) to cover drugs, new treatments, studies, secoind opinions, etc. All in, in addition to my health insurance premiums of OVER $25K per year, accounting for co-pays and denied benefits, I have pauid out an EXTRA $30K the past 4 years. I am very fortunate to be able to carry this burden. Many cannot. Many must either deny treatment to their children, or face economic havoc. This is insanity in a nation as weaklthy as ours. Coincidentally, a very close friend, who happens to be Canadian (Quebec) has a 21 year old son who battles the same affliction. His yearly out of pocket expense to receive treatment for his child is 0. Zero. Nada. And he has NEVER been denied a treatmen, drug, experimental therapy, etc. The USA is great, yes, but Canada does do wo things better than we do------hockey and health care.

    September 22, 2009 at 12:44 pm |
  7. Sandra

    I am also pleased that President Obama is attempting to put into effect the platform he campaigned for and for which I voted in November. I also agree with Mr. Tanney who basically states that we need a simpler message from our President. We needed to know sooner exactly why we need a better healthcare system. No one told us until the bill was being fought over. We needed the bill to be spelled out in laymen's terms so that all Americans, not just the lawmakers, could understand it. Before the Republicans made up their scare tactics and negative comments that only serve to divide us. Please, Mr. President, give us a simple message about the reasons why we need this reform.

    September 22, 2009 at 12:25 pm |
  8. MRTexas

    There is plenty of meat on the health care issue if you have been willing to listen, but many people do not listen (except to FOX, Dobbs, Sarah's Facebook page and hate radio). Also, George Bush could have helped more in keeping us safe if he had been listening...but he was so arrogant in the beginning of his administration, he just got himself in a hole when 9/11 happened and never got out. I find this President's approach to keeping America informed refreshing...the right hates it because so far (and in the last 8 years) they have done little or nothing (but complain) to help the American people...Charles Grassley and 'Maverick' John McCain are despicable allowing the lies of death panels to continue...talk about for the sake of politics??? Give me and the rest of America a break.

    September 22, 2009 at 11:28 am |
  9. jon w

    September 21st, 2009 12:27 pm ET

    Mr. Gergen, Staff & America,
    We that voted for President Obama are pleased with his total work so far. President Obama stated in his campaign that the road will be long and challenging, yet Americans will prevail!
    I think his work is right on target and I think many, many Americans that voted for him is pleased with his progress. President Obama is keeping his promise!! Many of the groups that you are polling did not vote for the President, therefore, they are not supporting any of his agendas. Poll the folks that voted for Obama. My encouragement to the President to stay on course and most Americans of proud of his works and we respect him and the office the holds! Good day CNN!

    well well arent you special,, im glad you arre happy couse the majority isnt,, and im sick of looking at his face 6 times a day doing tv

    September 22, 2009 at 9:32 am |
  10. JEZEBEL58

    If Mr.Obama wasn't giving speeches I am sure a lot of people would think that he was hiding something now that he is out there it's too much,can't please all of the people all of the time.He was called a liar and no one trusts him so being out there is agood thing,somewhere down the line I am sure he won't be seen as much and there will be complaints,people wondering why he hasn't been seen.And yes like Jordan he cannot do it alone so maybe "you" should pick up the ball and play.

    September 22, 2009 at 6:00 am |
  11. Greg Goldsborough

    completely agree david. watching the president do all of this media reminds me of watching michael jordan carry the bulls before they won a championship. it was all jordan, they got close but could not get to the finals. phil jackson changed that. made jordan pass more, give other players the shot. and after that they won not one, but six nba titles!

    obama is a lot like jordan. – extraordinarily talented, plays his game with incredible grace, can best anyone else on the court. but like jordan, he cannot do it alone. he must pass off to his senior team more, let them make the case, not overexpose the presidency.

    americans still enjoy seeing their gifted president in action, but in this case less is more.

    September 21, 2009 at 5:13 pm |
  12. CHUCK

    I think that CNN is over exposing Frances Townsend . This woman,Frances Townsend has NO CREDITABILITY WHATSOEVER. Everyday Townsend is turning off viewers. She was Bush's chief cook and bottle washer.

    September 21, 2009 at 2:49 pm |
  13. arthur tanney

    The problem is that the President's message is being drowned in a huge tossed salad of verbiage--too many greens and not enough meat. People are confused as he has uncharacteristically been too mudled in his communication. I am a BIG Obama supporter, and to be honest I have been somewhat disappointed with the campaigns to explainn his health care reform agenda and his plans in Afganistan. If I am a bit put off, I can only imagine the ambivalence in the center and the right. Sometimes, Mr Presient, less is more. We need your words to be of sounder quality, not quantity, and we need you to energize and inspire, as you did in the pre-election days. Your administration is young yet, it can easily be done. Just do it!!!!

    September 21, 2009 at 2:44 pm |
  14. kathy

    It is easy to criticize President Bush as he made decisions to keep us safe while he dealt with politics all the while. Now our democratic president has to make decisions to keep us safe. He needs to do like Pres. Bush and send our men and women the help they need and forget the politics when they get in the way.

    If you start a war, you need to commit to finish the job with a committment that sees it through and takes care of our own while they are over there .... whatever that takes. If it was so important to get over there... then it is important to give our best and do our best.

    “risking mission failure” sounds like we need to respond and get it right.

    September 21, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  15. Irmatine Bealyer

    Not Mad as Hell!

    I am not mad at all. I bet many Americans are not as mad as you all are saying. I think Americans that are mad with President Obama are just angry people emotionally caught up in fear produced by their lack of knowledge. There is no need to get mad and disrespect the President because they disagree with him implementing the campaign promises he made to us. He won the most votes from Americans. We are awaiting better days and America is getting better each day. I look forward to helping President Obama help America!!!! What are you mad people doing in addition to complaining?

    September 21, 2009 at 12:39 pm |
  16. Irmatine Bealyer

    Mr. Gergen, Staff & America,
    We that voted for President Obama are pleased with his total work so far. President Obama stated in his campaign that the road will be long and challenging, yet Americans will prevail!
    I think his work is right on target and I think many, many Americans that voted for him is pleased with his progress. President Obama is keeping his promise!! Many of the groups that you are polling did not vote for the President, therefore, they are not supporting any of his agendas. Poll the folks that voted for Obama. My encouragement to the President to stay on course and most Americans of proud of his works and we respect him and the office the holds! Good day CNN!

    September 21, 2009 at 12:27 pm |