No politician can succeed without mastering “optics”. That is to say anyone who aspires to political office has to be keenly aware of how their actions, the venues from which they speak, and the activities they pursue publicly, will be seen through the eyes of the average voter who is not motivated chiefly by politics.
Most people, I’d be willing to bet, have a pretty good grasp on this by they time they rise to national office, though even seasoned pols have trouble at the corndog counter. Our President, on the other hand, hasn’t quite figured things out.
He is scheduled to give another speech today about how we have to pass right away his jobs bill that has yet to be submitted by any Democratic member of Congress. His venue today is a bridge that spans the Ohio River between Kentucky (home of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) and Ohio (home of Speaker of the House John Boehner). The bridge, according to the White House, “needs repair” and his bill would pour money into that repair so the people of Ohio and Kentucky will have a sturdy and safe route for decades to come if only the wicked Republicans and their Tea Party mobs would lay politics aside and do good for America.
So far, so good, right? President Obama picked a bridge that would benefit from his big-money bill that, by happy fortune, sits between the home states of his two most bitter foes in Congress. What’s not perfect about that?
Well, three things, actually. First, the President’s jobs bill still hasn’t been submitted because no Democrat in either the House or Senate will do it. Harry Reid has said that he probably won’t get around to the President’s legislation until next month at the earliest. Second, the bridge that “needs repair” doesn’t actually need repair. The Department of Transportation considers it “functionally obsolete” because it gets far more traffic than it can reasonably handle. You can’t repair a bridge like that to make it carry more traffic than it does. All you can do is replace it. And that’s the third problem. As Andrew Malcolm noted, the bridge is indeed scheduled for replacement by a new bridge for which construction will not begin until at least 2015, which is when the projects to upgrade the highways that approach the bridge are finished.
What looks like great “optics” turn out not to be all that great, mostly because the White House chose to focus the appearance on a dig at Boehner and McConnell. Let’s not kid ourselves here. The President is where he is today because of the coming election and his only play right now is to tear at Republicans in Congress just as hard as he can. He could have chosen a bridge that really did need repair, or a stretch of highway, or a power plan…well, given that his EPA is busy closing power plants all across Texas, probably not a power plant. He didn’t. He chose a dishonest political attack, but that’s what he knows. It’s as much a part of his political DNA as the haughty chin thrust and the army of strawmen. I’m not even sure he knows what a good political “optic” really looks like.
Unfortunately for the President, dishonesty has “optics”, too. You can see them very clearly in his approval ratings.