Beware Condemning Barack Obama For a Low Bully Pulpit Profile

Don't be too quick to condemn Obama's use of the bully pulpit.


Obama is caught at the crux of a tension in presidential leadership that has grown since FDR chatted with Americans at their firesides. The limitations of the bully pulpit are in opposition to the demands mass media have placed on it. In his single term as president, from 1929 to 1933, Herbert Hoover made an average of eight public appearances per month. In his thousand days, JFK made 19 per month. In his first term, Bill Clinton averaged 28. In his two years in office, according to statistics compiled by CBS News's Mark Knoller, Obama averaged more than 42 public appearances per month. Presidents must speak more, even if it diminishes the power of their voice.

In noting similarities between Obama and his predecessors, I do not mean to suggest equivalency. It may well be that in 50 years historians will say that Obama was the first real social media president in the way of FDR and radio and JFK and television. But if such mastery does emerge, it is currently still a work in progress. In the meantime, his friends especially would do well to remember that the bully pulpit is not a cure-all. And that even our most eloquent leaders have had good reasons for their silence as well as their words.

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