White House spokesman Robert Gibbs found himself the object of mockery on Twitter Wednesday, when some political reporters started spoofing his efforts to promote the Obama tax cut deal.
I was happy to see the reporters making fun of Gibbs. But I was even more happy to see Gibbs promoting the tax deal in the way he was, because it suggested the White House might be learning how to convey its message more effectively.
Here's what happened, as an article in Politico subsequently detailed. Late in the morning, Gibbs and his staff began distributing endorsements of Obama's controversial tax deal with Republicans, filling journalists' e-mail and twitter accounts with messages like "Mayor Villaraigosa Backs Middle Class Tax Cut Framework," "Governor-Elect Chafee Backs Middle Class Tax Cut Framework," "Senator Kerry Backs Middle Class Tax Cut Framework."
It went on like this for a few hours. And the more repetitive the endorsements became, the more ridiculous they started to seem, particularly since many of the officials weren't even that well known.
Eventually some journalists started tweeting back:
From ABC's Jake Tapper: "HOLD THE PHONE, Charlotte, NC, Mayor Anthony Foxx. supports the tax cut deal!!!! (WH just emailed reporters.)"
From Talking Points Memo Brian Beutler: "BREAKING FROM WHITE HOUSE: Duluth area glass-blower Hubert T. Grimset backs Obama/GOP tax cut compromise."
And from Slate' Dave Weigel: "BREAKING: WH announces support for tax cut deal from guy who delivered Thai food to the speechwriters today. DEVELOPING..."
Gibbs took the mocking well, eventually quipping on his Twitter account that an endorsement from President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen's fictional character on "The West Wing") was on the way. But the White House didn't stop distributing the emails. Nor should it have.
Those of us who follow politics closely and, in some cases, professionally find these emails silly and insulting. But in today's cluttered media environment, sometimes it takes this sort of mindless, relentless efforts to make a political argument.
Most people I know in Washington think the White House is terrible at message discipline. It doesn't simplify its arguments and it doesn't stick with them long enough. I have no idea whether that's because the communications operation hasn't been doing its job or because its boss, President Obama, doesn't like that style of argument. But I tend to the critics are right--and hope this a sign that the administration does, too.