Does Barack Obama want to be the president of the world or do the job he was actually elected to do be president of the United States?
The Oval Office speech Tuesday night was a clue that President Obama may have finally decided that, yes, he wants to be an American president.
Fact is, he lamented how we send money to “foreign countries” for oil, he talked about our children’s future. He even pulled a few Reagan rabbits out of the hat by referring to American optimism and can-do attitude.
He told the American people that “we have refused to settle for paltry limits…” and referenced World War II and the moon landing. He even mentioned God, prayer and the “faith in the future” that sustains us. All good signs.
So bottom line, this was no Carter-esque speech of gloom and malaise, but his brand is not out of the woods by far because one more speech, especially from Barack Obama, simply cannot undo damage and put his brand on sound footing.
Some damage from this brand uncertainty has been confusion like the kind we saw over how his government has referred to terrorists and the things that make them want to kill us. The attempted airplane bombing on Christmas Day seemed to wake Obama up to the reality that picking a side really matters in this fight and grudgingly he has done so.
More damage to President Obama’s brand uncertainty has come from the bungling of the BP crisis and souring relations with our closest ally Great Britain. When a political brand is uncertain about what he stands for, he flails around.
That’s what Barack Obama has done with Great Britain during the BP crisis. He’s gone from being the voice of calm and reason to looking for hindquarters to kick to putting our cherished relationship with another English-speaking country on the altar of domestic politics.
Being the president of the world might mean turning on your traditional allies to curry favor with developing world consensus and to win votes from the people in the Gulf who are understandably fed up with this disaster, but being president of the United States means that you must honor the relationship and tell the American people why it matters. Maybe he thinks the British relationship is so secure that he can safely attack it to score some points, but attacking your allies is never a good idea.
President Obama must now show through words and, more important, action that he will not keep trying to be all things to all people internationally. He must make a choice before his brand and, more important, our country is harmed. He could start with last night’s speech. Let’s hope he does.
And, remember, things are always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.
John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert and president of the Marketing Department of America who markets his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He is a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum and the author of a new book "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."
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