George L. Barnett: The president's failure to communicate


Published: Monday, June 16, 2014 at 5:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 16, 2014 at 5:13 p.m.

There is a famous line from the old Paul Newman movie, "Cool Hand Luke" -- "What we have here is a failure to communicate." And that is what the big problem is with the Barack Obama presidency. Oh, the president can communicate really well, but he only communicates with his peers, people with graduate degrees and 150 IQ points.

What he has failed to do throughout his presidency is explain to the average American why government debt is not the same as family debt and why large government isn't the problem.

Everyone knows that debt can be useful. For example, no one buys a house for cash, and almost every businessman uses debt to acquire equipment for his business. The debt that the average American fears is the debt that he or she is forced to incur because he or she cannot pay bills; the burdensome debt that costs so much interest and takes so long to pay back; the debt that gets passed on to children who cannot pay it either.

That American, those Americans need to have a good explanation of why government debt to build and repair highways and VA hospitals and pay for computers to operate VA hospitals isn't that kind of bad debt. That American, those Americans need to understand that debt incurred by the government to educate all of our children and to feed all of our poor is not bad debt. It is the same kind of debt that allows people to build houses and businesses to help them succeed.

But the president hasn't explained that. No, he is too busy making big, intellectual policy statements that only the elite can understand and that's why he is a failure.

What the president has also failed to do is to explain to the average American why big government is not bad. He needs to explain in simple graphic terms why the FDA is necessary: Why without it negligent food processing could poison so many of us and why irresponsible drug manufacturers could distribute drugs that may not help us and that even may kill us.

He needs to explain why, without the FAA, the airline industry might not be as safe as it has been for so many years. He needs to explain why without OSHA industrial plants might go back to being unsafe places to work as they were during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. He needs to explain why agencies like the SEC need more money so that investing by people and by large banks and other institutions would not be so subject to scams and really risky investments.

Unfortunately, he has not done any of that with respect to any of those agencies or for that matter any other of the many government agencies. He hasn't explained why, if we are going to cut government expenditures, it should be those expenditures that put money in the pockets of the rich who don't need the money. No, he has just made intellectual policy statements that no one except the elite graduate students of our country can interpret.

When FDR made his first inaugural address, he said in very simple words that the "Only thing we have to fear is fear itself." You don't need a graduate degree to understand that statement.

When president Truman integrated the military, he said: "It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.

You don't need a graduate degree to understand that statement.

What we need is a president who doesn't fail to communicate. And ours does fail. Like the extreme right wing speaks to its base, the president speaks to the people who already support him. He fails to speak to all of the Americans who are not convinced and need rational understandable explanations for the programs that he, the president, wants to carry out. And in that regard he has failed miserably.

Maybe in his remaining two years he will improve, but I wouldn't bet on it. I voted for him twice because the choices were worse, but he has been a terrible failure. Flowery speeches may be nice to hear, but they don't explain what we should be doing and why.

George L. Barnett lives in Micanopy

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