Why is John Ensign sticking around?

The White House’s strategy to freeze out Congress and the American people has already generated a lot of concern from both the left and the right. Mr. Obama might think avoiding a formal address will help downplay the military intervention in Libya, but he’s taking a big risk when it comes to public opinion.

The first step in winning popular support for military action is for Mr. Obama to actually reach the public with his message. Elite communication is the lifeblood of mass public opinion. In fact, public opinion is largely a response to the consistency and intensity of elite messages. And when elites are divided – the way they are over Libya – the public tends to follow suit based on different levels of political awareness and values. As I wrote today the “winning” opinion in polls is usually the opinion that is most accessible to a respondent – the one heard most recently or most regularly.

While polls show that the public favors engagement in Libya, this support is the lowest it’s been for any U.S. military campaign in the past four decades. That suggests that the support is more of a “rally ‘round the flag” impulse than anything more substantial.

Alienating the American people not only reinforces the image of the Obama administration as out of touch with mainstream Americans, but it’s also bad politics. By failing to communicate with the public, President Obama is ultimately allowing the media and other elites to dominate the conversation. Without consistent and forceful communication from the White House explaining why attacking another Middle East country is a good thing, the public support for intervention will melt away faster than ice cream in a Libyan desert.