The new line in Washington is that President Obama has forgotten how to communicate. The barnburner speeches of the campaign trail have devolved into dull, aimless, rambling talking points. And that explains his falling poll numbers.

The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen suggested earlier this week that the president just needs a change of staff and a little media training refresher course.  Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson writes this morning (also in the WaPo) that President Obama has “lost his rhetorical touch.”

But this is missing the point. The president’s problems have less to do with how he’s saying things, than with what he’s saying.  His plummeting poll numbers are a function of the wrong message.

Communicating doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  For every dominant voice, there’s a countervalent one.  And when it comes to the failing economy, President Obama has been arguing that greater investment by the government is the way to create jobs and growth.  Bully pulpit or not, he doesn’t have the stage to himself.  Opponents (mostly from the GOP) have been calling for something different. Take Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who has loudly and consistently, beat the drum for less government, less spending, fewer taxes and burdensome regulations.  And this countervalent — or opposing — message is having an effect.

It’s been so effective, in fact, that now President Obama no longer seems to be advancing the dominant message. With a mid-term election looming and public opinion firmly against the health care overhaul and the big-government policies of this administration, more and more Democrats are turning on the president and adopting what once was the countervalent message.

As Kimberly Strassel lays out in today’s Wall Street Journal, more and more Democrats are helping make the anti-big government message the dominant one:

Stimulus? Only a handful of Democrats can be found who will even utter the dreaded “s” word—and those are the ones bragging they voted against it. The rest have developed a curious code involving brief references to “roads” and “bridges.” Even the White House is running from the White House. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs crankily lectured the press corps this week that the latest $50 billion Mr. Obama wants to “spur” the economy is absolutely not a “stimulus.”

Cap and trade? “I voted against Nancy Pelosi’s energy tax on Hoosier families,” explains Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly in an ad, echoed by North Carolina Rep. Mike McIntyre and Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire. And the yes votes are rushing to argue that all they were really voting for was “renewable energy.”

Financial regulation? What’s that? Most of the country doesn’t know, and few Democrats are bothering to explain. They see more mileage in ads putting distance between themselves and the auto bailouts, the president’s budget, or the party’s cultural reputation. Roy Herron, running in Tennessee, ran an ad describing himself as a “truck-driving, shotgun-shooting, Bible-reading, crime-fighting, family loving country boy.” This is not a joke.

President Obama can roll up his sleeves, run out onto the stage and give the speech of his life. But if he’s not sending the right message, all that speech training will be for nothing.