BHO's no FDR

By STEVEN STARK  |  December 31, 2008

Remember that FDR emerged in the early days of radio — the beginning of an era when new networks were creating the first live mass audiences in history. When Roosevelt gave a Fireside Chat, the listenership was huge, if only because there were so few other competing sources of information. And not only that: because the country under FDR was essentially sharing the same few media outlets, radio organized a common culture and a sense of national unity tailor-made for the Roosevelt approach — Big Government for big audiences.

Today, in a media universe comprising 200 cable outlets, thousands of radio stations, and, of course, the Internet, the president's microphone has been reduced to two cupped hands, if that. There is no more bully pulpit. More important, we're in an age of national atomization, where there's much less of a shared political culture. Even with Obama's talent for delivering inspiring speeches, far from everyone will be listening. The converted will hear him; the unconverted or the uninterested will tune him out.

Thanks to all the bailout and stimulus packages, federal power may be growing. But the Constitution was designed to make the presidency a weak office — especially in the area of domestic policy. Transforming a modern economy is beyond any president's reach. That's why Obama, finally, will need all the luck and good will he can muster. Through no fault of his own, he has raised expectations so high that it's hard to see how anyone could fulfill them.

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