Barack Obama looked forceful, almost angry, in his much-ballyhooed speech to Congress, pitching a plan that he promised would deliver a “jolt” to the nation’s sagging economy, and perhaps to his presidency as well.
But whether that happens depends in large measure on an aggressive White House plan to take the fight to the Republicans who have thwarted most of his agenda.
I’m told the president has vowed to campaign against the GOP if the party balks at passing his jobs bill, and believes he can rally public opinion to his side. That should please his disaffected liberal loyalists, who are fed up with Obama’s appeals to bipartisanship, which always seem to end with John Boehner’s crowd kicking sand in his face.
The president is said to believe that the country faces a second recession if he doesn’t push through the $450 billion package—and by laying out an ambitious plan, he has positioned himself to blame the Republicans if the economy tanks. The public, of course, may lay the mess at his feet instead.
In short, the bill, in the unlikely event it passes, could serve as insurance against a double dip—while the speech itself could serve as Obama’s job insurance.
Yet Thursday’s address may not have much impact, and not just because it began at 4 p.m. on the West Coast since Obama was maneuvered into starting early before the NFL season kickoff. Many people are tired of this president’s speechifying, and with zero job growth last month, they want action, not words.
But the speech did what Obama has so often failed to do: lay down a marker against the opposition.
He started out like gangbusters, putting faces on the economic crisis, vowing to help veterans, teachers, construction workers, first responders, disadvantaged youths, and the unemployed. He virtually demanded passage of his plan, including payroll tax cuts—promising it would be fully paid for and that he would propose even deeper spending cuts 10 days from now.
“This isn’t political grandstanding, this isn’t class warfare,” he insisted—though at one point the cameras caught House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, sitting stone-faced, a reminder of the opposition Obama faces.
But the address soon devolved into a liberal laundry list, with items ranging from mortgage aid to school renovation to high-speed rail to big corporations and the wealthy paying their “fair share”—that is, higher taxes.
When Obama has gotten in trouble—in the campaign and in the White House—he has consistently reached for the big speech, displaying an abiding faith in his oratorical powers. But he has worn out the bully pulpit and failed to produce results, most notably during the debt-ceiling crisis in which the Republicans got almost everything they wanted. The president will now take the show on the road and hope to drive a message that he wants to kick-start the economy and the other party is being intransigent.
But much of the public may have tuned him out, and if the net result is still more Washington gridlock, his nascent campaign may be stuck in the mud.