The Campaign Spot

What Isn’t ‘The Moment for Barack Obama to Demonstrate That He Knows How to Persuade’?

We’re hearing a lot about how President Obama needs to be persuasive tomorrow night, how he needs to win over skeptical Blue Dog Democrats, how he needs to get the progressives to not let the whole effort fail if the public option isn’t included, how he needs

to reassure the wary members of the public, to boost the sagging poll numbers for the plan, etc. . . .

There’s a lot of talk about how President Obama needs to persuade folks. Of course, I thought the president was touring the country a few weeks ago with the exact same goal.

I noticed another “the president needs to persuade people” lament on another issue, in this column by Anne Applebaum:

This, then, is the moment for Barack Obama to demonstrate that he knows how to persuade. One or two quick trips to Europe and another behind-the-scenes plea for “more troops” aren’t going to do it: Europeans may like Obama better than George W. Bush, but they don’t yet believe he is any more committed to Afghanistan than his predecessor was. Nor will Americans be convinced by a speech or two, however soaring the rhetoric or elegant the turns of phrase.

On both sides of the Atlantic, Obama needs to cajole and convince, to produce plans and evidence, to show he has gathered the best people and the most resources possible — to campaign, in other words, and campaign hard. If the health-care debate will determine his domestic fortunes, the outcome in Afghanistan will make or break his foreign policy. He has said many times that he supports the Afghan war in principle. Now we’ll see whether he supports it in practice.

There’s a rather glaring problem with public expressions that “this is the moment for Obama to change people’s minds.” Other than persuading people to vote for him, has Obama ever done this? Ever? Can anyone point to a circumstance where he encountered a group that wanted X, and he persuaded them to embrace “not X”?

Doesn’t Obama’s history suggest the opposite? I’m thinking of anecdotes like this one when he was on the Harvard Law Review: “Surrounded by students who enjoyed the sound of their own voices, Mr. Obama cast himself as an eager listener, sometimes giving warring classmates the impression that he agreed with all of them at once.”

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