The re-run president.
Listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on KTBB AM 600, Friday, August 2, 2013.
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The other day, in a simple metaphor, Rush Limbaugh again demonstrated why he remains at the top of the talk radio pyramid. Speaking on the subject of President Obama’s recently undertaken series of speeches focusing on the economy, Rush said succinctly and accurately, “Obama has gone into re-runs, No! He’s gone into syndication.”
The metaphor comes from TV.
Let’s use the TV series M*A*S*H as an example. M*A*S*H debuted on CBS in September 1972. It was an instant hit. The show was in production for 11 seasons during which about 25 episodes were made each year. In the network TV model that is more or less still followed today, those 25 episodes would air weekly from mid September until mid March. Then, during the early spring and summer, selected episodes would air a second time in what is called the “summer re-run” season.
After a season’s worth of episodes was aired originally, and selected episodes were aired in re-run, the series was offered to individual stations and cable networks to air largely at the discretion of those stations and cable networks. (That’s when you start seeing an old favorite at two o’clock in the morning when you can’t sleep.)
This phase of a TV program’s life is called “syndication.”
By the time a show reaches syndication, it is becoming shopworn. The longer it runs in syndication, the more shopworn it becomes.
When M*A*S*H was still new, it was a ratings dominator and must-see TV for millions. But M*A*S*H fans have by now seen every episode multiple times. Anyone who ever had an affinity for M*A*S*H can watch for ten seconds and recall the episode and probably much of the dialogue.
M*A*S*H was once the hottest property on TV. Today, it’s filler. M*A*S*H has been seen so many times that even its onetime biggest fans flip past it when channel surfing.
The example of M*A*S*H, and Rush’s metaphor, applies to the president’s announcement that he intends to “pivot” to the economy, jobs and the middle class in a series of campaign-style speeches at venues across the country. The first example of that pivot occurred at Knox College in Galesburg, IL on Wednesday, July 24.
It was that speech that caused Rush to compare the president to a once-popular TV show that is now in re-runs and syndication. Like a M*A*S*H episode, we’ve seen it before. Many times.
Beset as he is by a weak economy, the growing unpopularity of Obamacare and by persistent questions about the tragedy at Benghazi, official misconduct at the IRS, revelations about NSA spying on private citizens (e.g. you and me) and wiretapping carried out against AP and Fox News reporters — all of which the president now characterizes as “phony scandals” — one can understand that Obama is looking to re-kindle the magic.
But like an episode of M*A*S*H seen for the 15th time, the president’s speeches lack much of their original spark. Always standing against a backdrop of smiling, adoring true believers (itself now a predictable and tired tableau), the president is re-delivering lines from five years ago that, for whatever else good or bad could be said about them then, at least at the time benefitted from his extraordinary skill at delivery.
Today, five weary years into the most sluggish economy in three generations, skillful delivery is no longer enough. Rhetoric that once excited now falls flat. Just as M*A*S*H was once fresh and original but is today tired and worn out, so too are President Obama’s speeches.
Senate and House Democrats clinging to vulnerable seats who must face the voters in 2014 need help from Obama. Many of them know that they are returning home for the August recess to face some very pointed questions from constituents.
Thus the hitting of the stump. Speechmaking is the one thing everyone agrees that Barack Obama does well.
But he should pay heed to Rush’s metaphor. In the unlikely event that CBS ever tried to produce a new version of M*A*S*H, they would at the very least insist upon having fresh scripts.
President Obama keeps offering re-runs.