Obama, the Salesman: ‘Sometimes I Forgot Part of My Job Is Explaining to the American People’

Jul 22, 2011 1:51pm

ABC News’ Devin Dwyer (@devindwyer) reports:   President Obama has held three news conferences, three briefing-room statements, and one outside-the-beltway town-hall meeting in the past month, all in an effort to sell his plan for solving the nation’s debt and deficit crisis. 

But will his pitch, which includes a call to raise taxes on wealthier Americans and potentially change Medicare and Social Security benefits, succeed where his previous messaging has failed? 

Speaking to a crowd of friendly supporters at the University of Maryland, his first public event outside D.C. in three weeks, Obama suggested he’s winning the war on public opinion for how to reduce the nation’s debt and deficit.  But, the president conceded, he hasn’t always been the most effective at making his case. 

“Over the first two years, I was so focused on policy and, you know, getting the policy right, that sometimes I forgot part of my job is explaining to the American people why we're doing this policy and where we're going,” Obama said, referencing his responses to the financial and housing crises and health care overhaul.

“I think that was something that I could have done better,” he said.

Recent polling shows Obama’s latest messaging strategy might be resonating, with more Americans backing his approach to reducing the debt and deficit than that favored by Republicans. 

Forty-eight percent of respondents in the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll said they trust Obama to handle the debt debate, while just 39 percent favored congressional Republicans.

Moreover, by a 62 to 32 percent divide, Americans said they prefer a deficit-reduction plan such as Obama’s that includes a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.  Republicans have favored cuts alone. 

Still, Obama must broker a “balanced” deal that can pass Congress and, once the public learns of its details, continue to sell it.  As was witnessed with the economic stimulus plan and health care overhaul, for example, initial public support is no guarantee that it will last.  

In February 2009, majorities of Americans in a USA Today/Gallup poll said they were confident the stimulus plan would make the downturn less severe and that it would help their own personal financial situation. 

Two years later, while most independent economists concluded the stimulus did blunt the recession’s blow, just 28 percent of Americans said they believed the plan helped the economy at all. Republicans have pounced on the swing in opinion and are expected to use it against Obama during the 2012 campaign. 

However the ongoing debt and deficit play out, Obama, the salesman, faces a big test.

ABC News’ Mary Bruce contributed to this report. 

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