Loglines and Narratives

An interesting New York Times analysis on how Obama is losing his way (and the faith of Americans) because of his muddled narrative.  Maybe he needs that one logline that’ll simplify everything for us?  (I think “Yes We Can” has been crossed off the list).

“You’ve got to have a clear, easy to understand story,” said Mark McKinnon, an image-maker for George W. Bush’s two presidential campaigns but a professed admirer of Mr. Obama. “Obama’s story is getting very complicated and confusing for voters. Obama is trying to do it all and appease too many constituencies. Voters like him and think he’s smart. But they’re not exactly clear whose side he’s fighting on.”

Mr. Obama rode into office on one of the most elegant narratives in recent campaign history: that he was the embodiment of hope and change. It caught the national mood, yet remained vague enough to mean pretty much whatever a voter wanted it to mean.

Also check out my chat on Seattle NPR station KUOW “Obama: President 2.0.” [“Can YouTube and Twitter really make government stronger, or is it just a way to make the masses feel like they have a voice?”]

But there was always a dialectical quality to the combination of hope (rather than remaining polarized, we could pursue what is right as Americans) and change (we should reverse pretty much everything done by Mr. Bush). This tension made the narrative difficult to sustain when Mr. Obama moved from campaigning to governing.


  1. I’ve also been astonished (and disappointed) at how Obama seemed to fade from the news when he took office. The story peaked with his election; the aftermath did not have the emotional highs and lows of the campaign.

    It’s interesting that the folks who were so good at shaping Obama’s story before–David Plouffe, etc.–have not been able to work their magic now. During the campaign the Obama team seemed like upstarts, promoting their story by all the channels available to them. Now it’s like they have been taken in by the big studio, with their story diluted and bogged down by competing demands and interests.

  2. “Mr. Obama has lost control of his political narrative, his ability to define the story of his presidency on his own terms.”

    The president does need a logline, and he also needs a way for people to feel like they have a personal relationship with him. I think Obama’s team underestimated how hard it would be to maintain this feeling after he became president.

    Social media made it easy to get personally involved in the Obama campaign. It’s not so easy to get involved with the Obama administration.

  3. “…the battle for hearts and minds starts with the hearts.”
    -Andy Goodman, Storytelling as Best Practice.

    Obama needs to make America fall in love with him again.

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