That’s what President Biden may need to do more of if he’s going to succeed
What do I mean by that? Most of us have probably heard of the concepts of “managing down” and “managing up”, both equally important examples of what a skilled manager of any kind needs to do to effectively communicate with both the people who report to them, and those to whom they report.
President Biden’s job is a little bit different: he needs to manage out. That is, to the people who elected him, and even those who didn’t: Americans.
Why is this so important? Because failure to communicate not just what he’s working on but how and how hard he’s working on it will be crucial to heading off a possible Republican takeover of the House and Senate in 2 years that would pretty much shut his agenda down. Which in turn could pave the way for the rise of a true autocratic government in 4.
So is he?
Let’s look at this day: the President came out and announced he is going to order that COVID-19 vaccines be prioritized for teachers, so that they can all be vaccinated by the end of this month, and safely get back to work.
In my opinion, that’s the biggest news story of the day, and should be getting put in front of people more than anything else.
But it’s not.
I look at my news feed, and the front pages of major online news sites, and while yeah, it’s there, it’s way down the list. What we used to call “below the fold”. When there used to be actual newspapers that you could fold.
What’s above it? Biden withdrawing the nomination of Neera Tanden as his budget director. Which is a fascinating story, but also one I can’t imagine most Americans care very deeply about at all. Dr. Seuss. New York Governor Cuomo. Texas removing all COVID-19 mask and most other restrictions. Fox News hiring former Trump spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany. Alex Jones saying something or other. And of course Trump at CPAC, which was three days ago now.
Some of those big stories, yes. Some not at all. Media’s always going to be running off in all different directions, like cats. That’s not going to change. (Except for the continued laser focus on Trump’s every move, which is wrapped up in what I’m talking about today too.)
Yet, IMO none of these stories is as big as getting all the teachers in this country vaccinated by the end of this month. Not next month. Not by the summer. This month. (And of course holding Biden to it if it doesn’t happen.)
Now, of course the Biden White House does not and should not dictate what private media companies choose to write about and where.
Even though Trump did. Not because he was so effective as a politician or a president, but because he always made sure he was the loudest person in the room. Doing so didn’t always reflect positively on him either. But that wasn’t because he didn’t “manage out”. That was because Trump lost control of his own message.
Because it really shouldn’t matter to the White House whether mainstream media picks up on what they think are their most vital messages or not, because there are plenty of other ways of getting their messages across.
And Biden’s got no shortage of people willing to support and amplify him on Twitter and elsewhere. Problem is, from what I see, they’re mostly all using their space to defend Neera Tanden at the moment, not to promote to every parent everywhere in the country that Biden’s going to see to it that every one of their children’s teachers is going to be able to get a shot by the end of the month. Even if they live in states that are not yet prioritizing that.
Now, that’s just the example that’s jumping out at me today, but circling the wagons is less important right now then pressing forward and showing that you are pressing forward.
Heck, Pete Buttigieg was so effective in his many appearances speaking for Biden on Fox News pre-election. He’s Transportation Secretary right now. Throw him back on there. How does getting vaccine doses to teachers relate to transportation? Well, I’m sure there’s a lot of vaccine transportation coordination involved. But even if there isn’t, who cares? He speaks well to what you need him to speak to if you want to connect with the people with whom you want—no, need—to connect.
Trump was able to control that flow by always bloviating and throwing his mashed potatoes on the carpet. That behavior might’ve been enough to start an insurrection, but before that, it also played a big part in losing an election. So please don’t think that’s what I’m calling for.
And anyway, Biden’s not that guy. That’s fine.
Just that sometimes “the proof is in the pudding” is not enough.
If you’re about to pass a huge COVID-19 relief bill, the main message people are getting should not be that it doesn’t include a $15 minimum wage. (Which is absolutely worth abolishing the filibuster to make happen—as is a bunch of voting rights legislation, and a whole slew of other things—but just isn’t going to make it through as part of this.)
Yes, as I said, there are people who are going to report that as the biggest part of the story anyway no matter what. That’s fine. And the President doesn’t need to talk big and brag all the time. Part of what people said they were yearning for was decency, and not so much crazy. But there’s a way of presenting that without making yourself out to be an egomaniac, and sometimes that isn’t quite happening now.
And it does start becoming a problem when the only message that gets out is President Biden isn’t getting this or that done, even if it’s a piece of some gigantically huge thing that is.
Even if people do start seeing real evidence in their everyday lives of the effectiveness of what Biden’s been able to do: whether it’s in the form of money in their bank accounts or shots in their arms, if it’s often or always presented in the context of a policy the President wasn’t able to fully execute as he really would’ve liked, it won’t propel him to where he needs to be. And I’m not one to look for success where none exists: if he truly fails at something, I’ll be the first to say that.
And as far as faulting Biden for not keeping to his “promise” of bipartisanship: that’s a bunch of BS. Because keeping a bunch of fat cat politicians in either party happy is just such an exercise in futility for anyone. Who cares if he’s too centrist or not centrist enough? No one’s ever going to agree on that. What really matters is how and where the president’s efforts land outside of all of that. That’s where bipartisanship can potentially really happen. Where the impact is really felt. But equally important is for those feeling it to have a clear, accurate picture of where it’s coming from.
And that doesn’t happen without effective messaging. Managing out. And by that I don’t mean lies. I really just mean truly, effectively getting those stories that really impact people told and retold. On the ground. Where they’re happening. Make sure those stories reach those people and those spaces. Especially since a lot of the people delivering content these days are convinced people out there are more interested in anything but.
There’s just so much noise. And you can’t assume that deeds alone are just going to slice through. I paraphrase some old-timey guidance I used to hear all the time as a journalist that I think applies to the President and his people now, and going forward if they want to succeed, not just in their actions, but in being fairly credited with the positive life-affirming results of those actions:
“Tell ‘em what you’re going to do. Tell them what you’re doing. And then tell them what you just did.”