Pictures Matter

 

NBC/WSJ and Rasmussen both report steep drops in Obama’s handling of foreign affairs.Why?

Because pictures matter.

In the NBC poll, the numbers are particularly stark: from an approval of 54-40% down to 49-46%, a net swing of 12 points (down six on approval, up 6 on disapproval) falls into the category of “unspinnably bad.”

There’s been a bit of polling on reactions to Romney’s handling of the issue, none of it either spectacular or consequential. American voters know who the Commander-In-Chief is, and hold him responsible for what’s happening overseas. It’s axiomatic that Americans have only a superficial understanding of the history, politics and niceties of foreign policy. But they’ve got a sense for pictures and video that mean trouble.

Obama’s foreign affairs polling hit comes from Americans having a sudden understanding that – as I mentioned in A Campaign On The Edge — lofty speeches in Berlin and Cairo don’t alter the behavior of the bad actors of the Islamic world. They barely alter the behavior of the non-extremist elements. (Stonking bribes to the new governments of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia only seem to have gone so far, oddly enough.)

As Jimmy Carter learned (and what were facile comparisons to Carter are becoming increasingly more appropriate), the pictures matter. 

Carter’s staff couldn’t grapple with the power of how Nightline, with its daily recitation of the Iranian hostage crisis, burned the image of Carter’s feckless, inept leadership into the minds of Americans. Carter’s team looked at Reagan and thought, “This guy is a boob. A crazy person. He doesn’t get it.” But as American flags burned, embassies were overtaken and victims paraded for the cameras, the policy differences between Reagan and Carter ceased to matter: Carter was weak, Reagan wasn’t.

The question for Obama now is simple: how many days of burning embassies, and how many photos of the Al Qaeda flag flying over our (soon-to-be former) diplomatic posts in the Middle East does it take before the “Osama is dead” line starts to lose its political punch? It’s the single point that average voters in the swing demos associate with Obama being a strong military and foreign policy leader.

We’re going to find out in the next two weeks or so. And the more it becomes clear that the White House and the State Department ignored warnings on the ongoing chaos in the world, the more skipping those PDB briefings will start to look like a liability. 

It was just days ago that Democrats were confidently strutting on the national political stage, boasting they now owned the traditional GOP strength of foreign policy. Now, they’re reaping the gut reaction of Americans who don’t need to know the policy details: they’re seeing the Middle East on fire, and dead American diplomats, and it shows in the polling.

But hey…did I mention Barack Obama killed Bin Laden? You might not have heard.

There are 16 comments.

  1. Severely Ltd. Inactive

    Pictures do matter. I’m reminded of the famous rooftop evacuation with the helicopter photo of Saigon. I think that might have had some antiwar moderates wondering if we should’ve folded when we did. Completely off the subject of foreign policy but especially pertinent to the power of photos…

    obama-pitch-baseball-april-2010.jpg

    • #1
    • September 19, 2012, at 7:14 AM PDT
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  2. JoePrunior Member

    I imagine that Obama takes it very personally (as did Carter) when footage of mobs burning his photo runs on US TV. Photos of our flag in flames? Not so much…

    • #2
    • September 19, 2012, at 7:53 AM PDT
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  3. MJB Wolf Inactive

    With so many embassies and consulates under attack and so much media available to news consumers there is no escaping the cumulative effect of all these worth-a-thousand-words photographs. Everyone with whom I’ve discussed the events of the last week has said the same things, more or less: What are we going to do? Why is America just taking this?

    Don’t discount the common bonds we have as Americans (current president excluded) and the revulsion, anger, disgust, and helplessness most Americans feel when they see these events. The media spin may keep the talking heads occupied but the lack of an answer to the the question — what are we going to do? — leaves a sickening void in the psyche of our fellow Americans.

    These pictures do matter and they are not subsiding, and they can’t be spun away. If no leadership is demonstrated from the Chief Executive, confidence in his abilities will soon evaporate, even among some in his base.

    • #3
    • September 19, 2012, at 8:33 AM PDT
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  4. John Murdoch Inactive

    Has anybody else seen a reaction to the DNC photo montage of the Russian Black Sea fleet, with the Turkish Air Force show team zooming overhead?

    That has the military folks in my Facebook acquaintance going absolutely bananas.

    • #4
    • September 19, 2012, at 8:47 AM PDT
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  5. David Williamson Inactive

    I’d imagine that the pic of the US ambassador being taken to the hospital didn’t help, either. 

    • #5
    • September 19, 2012, at 9:10 AM PDT
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  6. Profile Photo Member

    Yep, it’s coming home to roost. Michele Malkin has a great piece exposing the Dem strategy of just going “squirrel” over every little pip and squeak from the Romney campaign, knowing the MSM will carry it.

    Rick’s right…people are noticing the big picture.squirrel.jpg

    • #6
    • September 19, 2012, at 9:15 AM PDT
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  7. Daniel Breban Member

    Hello Ricochet members. I’m new so be kind. 

    According to the WSJ poll, 51 percent think the economy is recovering. Does that not alarm you?

    • #7
    • September 19, 2012, at 9:18 AM PDT
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  8. K T Cat Inactive

    Mitt has his own problems with that picture.

    • #8
    • September 19, 2012, at 9:36 AM PDT
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  9. DocJay Inactive
    Daniel Breban: Hello Ricochet members. I’m new so be kind. 

    According to the WSJ poll, 51 percent think the economy is recovering. Does that not alarm you? · 23 minutes ago

    Hello. I think our gas prices, jobs, and foreign policy blunders will factor in too. In addition, what percentage of those folks believe Romney will win polled accordingly?

    • #9
    • September 19, 2012, at 9:47 AM PDT
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  10. Profile Photo Member

    Rick, with all my heart I hope you are right. It would restore my faith in my fellow Americans. With polls and the media being what they are right now, I feel like I’m living in some bizarro parallel universe.

    • #10
    • September 19, 2012, at 9:53 AM PDT
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  11. David Williamson Inactive
    Daniel Breban: Hello Ricochet members. I’m new so be kind. 

    According to the WSJ poll, 51 percent think the economy is recovering. Does that not alarm you?

    Welcome to the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave – oh, wait – yes, that does worry me.

    • #11
    • September 19, 2012, at 9:58 AM PDT
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  12. Daniel Breban Member

    They don’t give that information.

    Parallel universe is probably the best way to describe the current state of affairs. Real unemployment is above 11 percent. Obama’s foreign policy has collapsed. Cheap energy is being hammered. Why isn’t this guy 10 points behind?

    DocJay
    Daniel Breban: Hello Ricochet members. I’m new so be kind. 

    According to the WSJ poll, 51 percent think the economy is recovering. Does that not alarm you? · 23 minutes ago

    Hello. I think our gas prices, jobs, and foreign policy blunders will factor in too. In addition, what percentage of those folks believe Romney will win polled accordingly? · 9 minutes ago

    • #12
    • September 19, 2012, at 10:13 AM PDT
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  13. Mel Foil Inactive

    obama_bicycle.jpg

    bill-hillary.jpg

    bush_bicycle.jpg

    Photos do tell you a lot.

    • #13
    • September 19, 2012, at 10:31 AM PDT
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  14. Raw Prawn Member

    I’m baffled by that NBC poll. I’d like to know precisely what question was asked, how it was contextualized, and how did the sample break down. How could 49% of Americans be satisfied with the One’s handling of foreign policy?

    Comparisons with Carter should take into account that President Jimmy was probably naive. Obama spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, and in an islamic school.

    I don’t imagine Obama is a moslem. I’m sure he has faith in nothing outside of his own wonderfulness. What I’m saying is that he should understand the religion of peace better than a baptist peanut farmer.

    Islam is an aggressor, it’s set up that way. When an opponent is strong it will smile and dissemble but when an opponent is weak it will attack.

    Obama’s policy of downsizing America, kowtowing to enemies and slighting friends could not be more calculated to stir up the islamists if that was his purpose. I don’t think it is his purpose. He just doesn’t care. Except that foreign policy provides him a larger stage to pose on, he’s not interested.

    • #14
    • September 19, 2012, at 11:17 AM PDT
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  15. jt Inactive
    jt
    Rick Wilson

    …how many days of burning embassies, and how many photos of the Al Qaeda flag flying over our (soon-to-be former) diplomatic posts in the Middle East does it take before the “Osama is dead” line starts to lose its political punch?

    As long as the MSM keeps the story focused on the ideas that this is all the fault of some film maker and Mitt’s talking out of turn this story is going to die. No one will see the pictures more than once. They’ll see Mitt fumbling through his latest attempt to finesse his 47% comments. If NightLine would open with “Day 23 of Muslim embassy-burning mayhem…” it might make a difference. The congressional investigation into why the embassies/consulates were not better protected will be written off as election-year politics.

    On NPR the attitude is that yes, there are serious things going on in the middle east but Obama’s doing his best to deal with a bad situation not of his making and Romney is shooting his mouth off about Palestinians, taxes, welfare leeches and making gaffes about all sorts of things that he doesn’t understand.

    • #15
    • September 19, 2012, at 11:42 AM PDT
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  16. Doctor Robert Member

    One can only hope so, MJB.

    • #16
    • September 20, 2012, at 10:22 AM PDT
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