Thursday, September 01, 2011

What was Obama thinking?

So why did Obama pick the same night as a Republican debate for his prime time speech to both houses of Congress? I can think of three possibilities: they didn't know about the GOP debate and so it was a total coincidence; they knew about the debate and predicted that Boehner would refuse and figured that the whole kerfuffle would make the GOP look ungracious and overly political; or they knew about the debate and were secretly quite happy to upstage the debate.

It seems very difficult to believe that they were totally unaware that there would be a GOP debate that night. The debate has been talked up as the coming-out of Rick Perry on the debate stage. The White House is full of political minds who are always trying to make their guy look good. They know that this speech is the kick-off of Obama's election campaign. If he can't convince the country that he is fighting full bore to decrease unemployment, his only hope for reelection is that the GOP self-destruct. So it's hard to believe that they didn't know what was on the political calendar for that date. If they didn't, they are incompetent and should be replaced.

So, if they knew about the GOP debate was their goal to try to upstage Rick Perry's debut or was their goal to make John Boehner look petty? Or perhaps both? Could Obama be playing politics with the efforts to create job? Remember that his whole theme is that Washington politicians need to put politics aside and put the country first. His constant theme is that the Republicans are playing politics because they don't care about the unemployed. So it's not hard to believe that the presidential reelection hopes didn't play into his gamesmanship on the scheduling of the speech. As Chris Cillizza writes, "[t]here are no coincidences in presidential politics."

The whole thing is so ridiculous. The President has had ample chances to focus on jobs. His previous attempts at stimulus have been utter failures. He then chose to spend a year on health care with no concern about how his plan would put a damper on companies hiring new workers. He proposed a budget this year that was laughed off the stage and couldn't garner a single vote even from the Democrats. He then gave a speech with no specific plan attached so it couldn't even be scored by the CBO. After the drama of the debt-ceiling increase he then combined campaign trips to the Midwest with attacks on the Republicans before heading off for a vacation on Martha's Vineyard. He hasn't exactly been applying the "fierce urgency of now" to getting the economy to grow.
And it's so typical of this guy's arrogance that he didn't follow ordinary procedures and consult with Boehner and Reid over the timing of the speech. After all, he's inviting himself into their house and their branch of government. Informing them 15 minutes before going public with their announcement doesn't count as consultation.
That the White House sprang the speech on short notice to everyone isn’t in dispute. The president’s letter was leaked to the press shortly after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was told of the request.
So much for his pretense of trying to rise above politics by working together with the Republicans. Then they were forced to try to leak the impression that the Speaker had signed off on the scheduling before they went public. The Speaker's spokesman vociferously denied this.
A Boehner spokesman went on the record to deny the claim. “No one in the Speaker’s office — not the Speaker, not any staff — signed off on the date the White House announced today,” Boehner press secretary Brendan Buck wrote in an email. “Unfortunately we weren’t even asked if that date worked for the House. Shortly before it arrived this morning, we were simply informed that a letter was coming. It’s unfortunate the White House ignored decades — if not centuries — of the protocol of working out a mutually agreeable date and time before making any public announcement.”
The White House has now backed down from saying that Boehner "cleared" the timing of the speech and ar saying that they consulted him. Ryan Lizza tweets,
"Cleared" officially downgraded to "consulted." So someone at WH anonymously passed along inaccurate information to several journos. Nice.
By playing politics with his speech, he's insured that the conversation about his speech will be about this whole mini-brouhaha instead of about his plans for the economy.
"It’s a bad idea [and] seems a little small,” said one Democratic consultant granted anonymity to speak candidly. “And it suggests perhaps his jobs plan won't be that appealing because now the coverage will be about the strategy and not the substance.”

Another senior Democratic operative suggested that scheduling the speech simultaneously with the GOP debate actually would muddy rather than clarify the contrast the White House is hoping for heading into 2012.

“If you’re trying to define this as a choice and not a referendum, why step on the opportunity for the American people to see the alternatives?” the source asked.
Krauthammer suggested last night that the Republicans missed an opportunity. They could have moved back the timing of the debate to start after the President's speech and then have spent the evening bashing him.

As Allahpundit writes, the worst thing about this whole story is that the President's speech and supposed plan will do little for the economy.
The worst part is that, with the economy on the brink of a double-dip and consumer confidence falling off a cliff, this guy’s mind is still so preoccupied with the campaign that he can’t muster a moment of presidential leadership without counter-programming it against a Republican primary event. He could have given this speech at any point. Six months ago, the day after the debt-ceiling deal was struck, last week, yesterday, today, tomorrow, the day before the Republican debate, the day after. Any of those would have been fine — the earlier th better, of course, given the magnitude of the problem — but that doesn’t occur to him because his own reelection is ever foremost in his imagination. We’ve known that for months, ever since he rolled out his horrendous budget that punted on entitlements so that he’d have a freer hand to demagogue the GOP, but in case you forgot, let this refresh your memory. If you could somehow promise him right now that he’ll get a second term no matter what happens with jobs, he’d tear the speech up and watch the Packers/Saints game himself. Pathetic.
In the end Obama backed down and agreed to the Thursday scheduling of the speech. Note the headline in the NY Daily News.
Obama caves to Boehner's wishes, now will deliver speech to Congress on same night as NFL opener
Not the headline that the President wanted. It's still not clear if the NFL will move back the 8:30 kickoff of the Packers-Saints game. Boy, that will win Obama friends and positive reactions from the public.

Whatever Obama was thinking in his gamesmanship about scheduling the speech, it has backfired and made him look small and weak. Not the impression of leadership that he's trying to project as he famously "pivots" to the economy.

UPDATE: And just in case anyone was falling for Obama's whole pose of rising above politics in trying to lower unemployment, note this classy move.
Within minutes of agreeing with congressional leaders Wednesday night on an address to a joint session next week, President Obama flashed out an email to millions of supporters criticizing the chambers, their members and vowing to pressure them to enact his as yet unspecified job creation ideas.

"It's been a long time since Congress was focused on what the American peoplObama during his address to the American Legion 8-30-11e need them to be focused on," the Democrat charged in an email with the subject line: "Frustrated."

It's not exactly clear how long "a long time" Obama was thinking of. But until midterm voters produced a historic House turnover to Republicans last November, Obama's Democratic Party controlled both houses with substantial majorities and gave him vast spending, reform and healthcare programs.

It was, at least in part, voter reaction to such legislation that produced the divided government in D.C. now.