Fireside chats for a new generation

FIRESIDE CHATS FOR A NEW GENERATION…. John Dickerson reports that we can expect to see more of the president on our television screens in the near future.

In an effort to educate the public on the state of the economy and his plans for improving it, President Obama is considering a series of short televised addresses similar to Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats. Press secretary Robert Gibbs has told the television networks that the administration may request more time than usual for a president. Gibbs did not provide a schedule but described the addresses as lasting about 10 minutes each. […]

Obama’s aides know that if they are to go forward with these short presidential addresses, they have to be doled out carefully. The president asked the networks for airtime on the weekend of Presidents Day in mid-February so that he could address the country after signing the stimulus bill but ultimately decided against the plan. Aides said he wanted to save the opportunity for a more crucial moment. Describing the network addresses, an administration aide compared them to the president’s town hall meetings, which Obama has asked his staff to schedule infrequently so that they still seem special enough to get coverage and add extra punch to the message.

Obama has made use of the weekly radio/multimedia addresses, but they’re pretty short, they’re released on Saturday mornings, and they’re easily ignored. The White House seems to be looking for a more significant impact, and 10-minute addresses, presumably in prime time, would get much larger audiences than the YouTube clips.

The president has (at least) two powerful advantages right now: a bully pulpit and the benefit of the doubt. It stands to reason that he’ll benefit more if he uses them more. Indeed, while polls continue to show Obama with high approval ratings and fairly strong support for his policies, I suspect much of this is the result of public respect and affection for the president personally. Were the White House to put together 10-minute videos to explain Obama’s agenda in more detail, it’s not only likely move the polls, it might have a more significant impact on the Hill, too.

As for what Obama might say in these addresses, Dickerson noted that he might as well stick to the FDR script, too.

Obama will look at FDR’s remarks about the economy, which have passages he could lift wholesale. “In our efforts for recovery we have avoided on the one hand the theory that business should and must be taken over into an all-embracing government,” said Roosevelt in 1934. “We have avoided on the other hand the equally untenable theory that it is an interference with liberty to offer reasonable help when private enterprise is in need of help.” Or, if consumer confidence is as much of a hindrance to the economy as experts say, then the end of FDR’s first address seems apt: “More important than gold … is the confidence of the people…. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses…. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.”

“You must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses”? It’s almost as if Roosevelt were talking about Fox News and CNBC.