And there's the problem for Obama. He's sticking to his rhetorical guns on the assumption that he's the great orator his fans have always claimed. It's admirably Gipperesque, I suppose, but the problem is that Obama has never once significantly moved public opinion on domestic issues with his arguments. If he had that power, not only would "Obamacare" be popular today, it would have been popular when he gave more than 50 addresses and speeches on it during his first year.
Obama's out on the stump, embracing Obamacare, doubling down on green energy, on the need for "investments" in government programs, and for the whole hodgepodge of rationalizations for hiking taxes and "spreading the wealth around."
Asking whether Obama is as good a communicator as Reagan is like comparing boxers from different generations; there's plenty of evidence to form opinions but no way to settle the matter.
But what must be very troubling for Obama is the mounting evidence that presidential persuasion is vastly overrated. Political scientist Brendan Nyhan has noted that Reagan's rhetoric had little effect on the polls or his media coverage. Liberal Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein, surveying the academic literature in a recent issue of the New Yorker, found that there's little evidence that any president has really moved the country with his rhetoric.
My hunch is that such findings are overdone and leave out some aspects of presidential persuasion.
Still, what's undoubtedly true is that results matter far more than words. And despite Axelrod's assertions, the fact is that Obama has been leading us down the road we are on for more than three years, and that's what voters will have in mind come Election Day.