The Great Speech Kerfuffle Of 2011 Reveals The Weakness Of The Obama Presidency

How a six hour long dispute over scheduling demonstrates yet again that Barack Obama isn't up for the fight.

The dispute between the White House and Speaker Boehner over scheduling of a Presidential Address, which resolved itself last night when the White House essentially surrendered  has been, inevitably, the topic of discussion among political pundits today. As usual, they’re all trying to decide who the winners and losers are. The real answer, of course, is that for the most part the American people don’t really care. To the extent the average American was even paying attention for the six hours yesterday over which this story erupted likely came to the same “pox on both their houses” that they did in the wake of the debt ceiling debate. The inability of two branches of government to agree on something as simple as a date for  a speech is mostly an indication of just how juvenile American politics has become. Nonetheless, there are a few lessons that can be drawn from this bizarre incident.

Over at The Washington Post, for example, James Downie argues that the entire incident should cause Democrats grave concern:

If this was an attempt to make Republicans look unreasonable, then, in almost every conceivable way, it failed spectacularly. And scheduling the speech during the GOP debate, even if Boehner had immediately acceded, is the one way the White House could guarantee a) that fewer voters would be watching and that b) viewers and pundits would pay less attention to the speech’s content and more to the theatrics around it. In other words, it’s the easiest way to lessen the speech’s chances at success. If this is a preview of Obama’s re-election campaign, Democrats should be very worried.

In fact, the entire scheduling of this speech calls the White House Communications Office into question. Next week is the week after Labor Day. For most of America, that means an end to summer and kids returning to school, with all the attending busyness that entails. Moreover, there were really only two days next week on which the speech could have been scheduled, Monday is out because it’s a holiday, neither House of Congress is in session on Tuesday, Wednesday is the GOP debate, and Thursday is the start of the NFL season (absent a national emergency, a Friday speech would be a waste of time for obvious reasons). It didn’t really matter if the White House picked Wednesday or Thursday for the speech. Wednesday would have been, and was, seen as a blatant political trick that was too clever by half, even James Carville said that the White House made a mistake in trying to steal the spotlight from the GOP Debate. Thursday isn’t much better though. They’ll be competing against a football game against the last two Super Bowl Champions, which in and of itself is likely to reduce the audience. There are rumors this morning that the White House may scheduled the speech for 7pm or 7:30 in order to not conflict with the game start time (although pre-game begins on NBC at 7:30pm that night and the opening game of the season is typically accompanied by musical performances and other events). If they do that, they will, as I noted in a comment to Steven Taylor’s post, reduce the audience even further:

The ideal time for these speeches is really 9pm (which is when the SOTU usually starts) or, in a pinch, 8pm in the East, because that gives time for people on the West Coast to get home to see the speech.

Now, they’ll either be competing with the NFL, or they’ll be giving a speech when most people on the West Coast and in the Mountain Time Zone are either still at work, or on their way home and when people in the Mid-West (Central Time Zone) are eating dinner, helping kids with homework, or getting ready for the football game.

All in all, this strikes me as something that was badly handled by the White House from the beginning.

More importantly, the incident reinforces the idea that has taken root in Washington that Barack Obama has become a weak President with the Republican takeover of the House. It started even before the GOP took formal control, when the President preemptively surrendered on the extension of the Bush tax cuts. Then it continued in April with the showdown over the FY 2011, and last month with the debt ceiling debate. In this particular case, the White House failed to recognize that they really weren’t holding any cards at all. Speaker Boehner controls access to the House Chamber and once he said the September 7th wouldn’t work, and cited valid security and scheduling issues as the reason, it was inevitable that the President would cave. Normally, these things are handled behind the scenes and a date agreed to. Why that didn’t happen here, and it clearly didn’t, is unclear. Whatever the reason, though, the very public rebuke and walkback by the White House is only going to serve to reinforce the general impression among Congressional Republicans that Barack Obama has no fight in him. Bill Clinton wouldn’t have let this happen, neither would Ronald Reagan have.

Joe Scarborough, who was a Congressman during the Republican showdowns with Clinton of the mid-1990s, put it best this morning, nobody fears the political consequences of defying this President:

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I’d argue that this attitude exists even among Obama’s fellow Democrats, who seems to clearly recognize that the President simply cannot be counted on in a fight. I’d also argue that this is yet further evidence in support of the proposition that Barack Obama came into office lacking the experience and the skills necessary to survive in Washington. It’s not just the fact that he had no Executive experience, although that’s certainly part of it. As I’ve mentioned before, Obama built is political career in an environment where political compromise wasn’t really necessary, and where leadership wasn’t really something that a back bench legislator from Chicago had to demonstrate. He didn’t spend nearly enough time in the Senate to develop an understanding of how Washington really works. Then, he was elected to the most powerful office in the world. Is it any surprise that he’s not the reincarnation of Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan?

All of this leads Ruth Marcus to wonder what the point of Obama’s jobs speech is at this point:

The larger question, of course, is whether all this focus on the speech is a smart move by the White House. I have my doubts, in large part because I don’t think there’s some magic, previously unmentioned, enormously and immediately effective bullet for the president to unveil. Instead, there are a series of smallish-bore steps that could have marginally positive effects. In that circumstance, the greater the buildup, the bigger the letdown. The drum roll has been building for weeks. The majestic setting of a joint session of Congress further ups the political ante. For the country’s sake, not simply Obama’s, I hope the president has something to say that’s worth the wait — and the kerfuffle.

Perhaps we’ll be surprised, but the odds are that this speech won’t amount to much of anything. In that case, the President is just going to look weaker.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Steven Donegal says:

    Unfortunately, I agree with you. Obama has politically been a disappointment to me. I’ll vote for him in ’12 because all the alternatives are unacceptable, but I really wish he would learn to fight back effectively.

  2. Dave says:

    Yes yes, the President who signed universal heath care into law and oversaw the assassination of Osama Bin Laden is weak.

  3. mantis says:

    The House Republicans look like childish assholes (which they are), and Obama re-schedules his speech just before the NFL season kickoff, probably getting a lot more viewers. Plus this shines a light on the Republican debate, which the Obama campaign surely wants more Americans to see, as the best thing for them is to spotlight the lunacy of today’s Republican Party.

    Or he could have spent the next week arguing with Republicans about speech timing, which is real important to the American people. Number one issue of the 2012 election? Schedule conflicts, of course!

  4. MBunge says:

    “And scheduling the speech during the GOP debate, even if Boehner had immediately acceded, is the one way the White House could guarantee a) that fewer voters would be watching and that b) viewers and pundits would pay less attention to the speech’s content and more to the theatrics around it.”

    Oh, for bleep’s sake. The idea that a GOP debate on one cable channel in September would draw ANY significant number of viewers away from a Presidential address to a joint session of Congress is beyond stupid. The idea that the Obama folks were AT ALL concerned with “stealing the spotlight” away from a GOP debate on one cable channel in September is even dumber than that.

    And as for “Bill Clinton wouldn’t have let this happen, neither would Ronald Reagan have”…BILL CLINTON WAS FRIGGIN’ IMPEACHED BY HOUSE REPUBLICANS and Reagan never faced a Democratic Party that essentially denied his legitimacy as President.

    You know what? Bring on Perry/Palin 2012. Let’s just get it over with.

    Mike

  5. Nonsense, Doug. This was a smart move in a long game.

    http://handthatfeedsyou.blogspot.com/2011/09/its-chess-not-checkers.html

  6. jan says:

    @mantis:

    The House Republicans look like childish assholes (which they are), and Obama re-schedules his speech just before the NFL season kickoff, probably getting a lot more viewers

    You are really on a foul-mouthed roll today, aren’t you? Most of the time the names a person calls others are more discriptive of themselves.

    But, you are right that Obama could get more viewers, following the NFL kickoff, unless there is a resounding click of the ‘off’ button, because so many people are tired of listening to the man read from his BFF teleprompters.

  7. Idiot says:

    I fail to see what there is or was to fight for in this. They didn’t schedule it well and then went public before getting a confirmation or thinking it through.

  8. I’m not sure I agree with your reasoning here. Basically, you’re saying that when faced with a party that acted like terrorists with regards to the economy, and wouldn’t even let him order ketchup on his sandwiches if they had that ability, the President showed weakness, when showing “strength” would have resulted in an economic catastrophe?

  9. mantis says:

    You are really on a foul-mouthed roll today, aren’t you?

    Sorry to offend your delicate sensibilities. Also, grow up.

    But, you are right that Obama could get more viewers, following the NFL kickoff, unless there is a resounding click of the ‘off’ button,

    I said before the kickoff, not after. That would be quite late. And as for people not wanting to watch because they don’t like the president, it doesn’t matter what night the speech would air for them. Your point is irrelevant to the discussion.

    because so many people are tired of listening to the man read from his BFF teleprompters.

    Do you know of some other politician who memorizes all of his/her speeches? Do you find it offensive that this president, like every single president before him, reads his speeches from text (be it on a teleprompter or note cards)? Do you understand how incredibly stupid the teleprompter garbage makes you sound?

  10. MBunge says:

    @mantis: “Do you understand how incredibly stupid the teleprompter garbage makes you sound?”

    Since the teleprompter stuff is pure racism (See! That n****r ain’t so smart!), I don’t think the people saying it really worry about how it makes them look.

    Mike

  11. jan says:

    @mantis:

    Sorry to offend your delicate sensibilities. Also, grow up.

    Your language says more about you than me. After all, garbage in, garbage out. Also, I think relying on calling people names, as a major part of one’s argument, is rather adolescent. Maybe you’re the one with a case of arrested development.

    Do you understand how incredibly stupid the teleprompter garbage makes you sound?

    Teleprompters are totally understandable when used for longer speeches. But, Obama hauls two around to address children, complete with an elevated stage, as well as when he simply announces a 3-minute nomination for a post on his economic team. There’s something lacking in a person when they have absolutely no spontaneity, or can’t speak coherently, for a few minutes, without note cards or words scrolling by that can be obediently followed. It’s akin to Milli Vinelli lip syncing , IMO — not authentic, and seems to show Obama has no confidence in his own words.

  12. tyndon clusters says:

    Jan,

    So you would no doubt prefer someone without a TP who butchers the English language, but at least he (Bush) wasn’t using those silly things when he would spout off with “I know how hard it is to put food on your family”.

    Grow up chile.

  13. jan says:

    @tyndon clusters:

    So you would no doubt prefer someone without a TP who butchers the English language, but at least he (Bush) wasn’t using those silly things when he would spout off with “I know how hard it is to put food on your family”.

    That is not what I said, was it?

    Of course, long or ‘official’ (like SOTU ones) speeches are better with notes and/or some kind of outside help. However, Obama uses teleprompters for EVERY speech. As far as butchering the English language….that doesn’t bother me as much as someone who can’t speak without reading their speech. Improvisation comes from the heart, unedited and oftentimes more truthful, which, for me, forgives all the little flubs and flaws that are intrinsic in speeches that are impromptu.

    Also, IMO, memorable wisdom is measured by something greater than making a flawless speech. Both Will Rogers and Mark Twain have more quotes attributed to their folksy language than Obama ever will.

  14. ponce says:

    Doug is welcome to push the wingnut meme that Obama is “weak,” but I don’t think it will do his Republicans much good.

  15. WR says:

    @jan: Oh, look, Jan’s lying again. You might want to look on the Google machine for footage of Obama’s long meeting with the Republicans about health care. He ate their lunch on every question — and it was all impromptu and off the cuff.

  16. Moderate Mom says:

    @mantis:

    Perhaps (or probably) most politicians use a teleprompter for a long speech, but Obama is dependent on it for even the shortest speeches. He hauled two teleprompters out to the the Rose Garden just this week to make a three minute announcement of his pick for a new economic adviser. I’d say that shows just a little too much reliance on his teleprompters. Plus, it’s very disconcerting watching the President’s head moving back and forth constantly, looking like he’s watching a tennis match.

  17. mantis says:

    I think relying on calling people names, as a major part of one’s argument

    My insults aren’t my arguments, as you well know. They are just garnish. You, on the other hand, don’t even attempt to make arguments. You spout nothing but silly non sequiturs and babble.

    Anyway, Notice how only people who hate the president have a problem with teleprompters, and never have a problem when a Republican uses one? There’s a reason for that.

    And there are a lot more examples of Obama speaking quite well than the one WR notes, at press conferences, in interviews, etc. Yes, he reads speeches. Everyone reads speeches. That’s why you write them ahead of time.

  18. Franklin says:

    His Presidency has been a mixed bag. There are quite a few things that the Obama Administration would consider a success, even if you didn’t like the particular policies. Besides the healthcare plan, you might remember a certain stimulus package, not to mention the end of bin Laden and Qaddafi and some changes in several Mideast countries which we may or may not have had much to do with.

    But no, the whole Presidency can really be judged on whether a speech is delivered one night or the next. You’re right.

  19. Racehorse says:

    It won’t matter to me what day or time. I will be watching Sponge Bob or Looney Tunes.

  20. CB says:

    @Racehorse:

    given that this is a joint session of congress, isnt that kind of redundant?

  21. jan says:

    @WR:

    If it’s the one where Obama had all his old and tired dems around him, trying to iron out the health care problems, then I respectfully disagree with your take on it.

    The dems, and Obama, were out of their league, while Ryan (in particular) had all the facts and figures with no notes or teleprompter. This is where I really saw the difference between the parties — the old, pudgy, power-infused democrats vs the newer more vital ideas of the republicans.

  22. jan says:

    @mantis:

    Anyway, Notice how only people who hate the president have a problem with teleprompters, and never have a problem when a Republican uses one?

    The republicans, nor any other dem in recent memory, has ever used the teleprompter like a kid relies on his blankie. Obama’s reliance on rolling words has become a joke in both parties. Only the diehards, like yourself, are deluded, and continue to think this is a natural way to communicate to the public at large.

  23. WR says:

    @jan: A joke in both parties? You mean the Republican Party and the Tea Party, I assume, since I doubt there’s a Democrat in the country who goes along with this moronic lie.

  24. Drew says:

    All hail Jan, for tolerating the trolls………..

  25. jan says:

    @WR:

    ……since I doubt there’s a Democrat in the country who goes along with this moronic lie.

    What you don’t like, WR, does not automatically become a lie. Obama has had a lot of criticism about his speeches, especially this past year. The teleprompter over-reliance is just adding more fodder to discrediting his words, because they don’t produce any actions.

    More and more dems I talk to are disillusioned with him, and are either changing parties, or hanging onto the dem label, because of partisan sentiment, but not voting dem.

    As for the tea party, it’s a movement, not a party. It only emerged as a counterpoint to Obama’s far left policies, and what they saw as usurping personal freedoms as well as livelihoods.

  26. jan says:

    @Drew:

    Hey Drew,

    All I can say is “Wow!”

    As you can see I am racking up lots of negative checks here. But, changing minds is really not possible. So, second best is just getting your POV on the table.

  27. Jeremy R says:

    even James Carville said

    Come on, that’s just stupid Doug. Carville is one of the Clinton circle Dems, like Ed Rendell, who have never been willing to carry water for this admin. In fact, he’s perfectly happy to counter-message whenever it suits his & Mary Matalin’s fancy. Don’t pretend this was any more surprising than Carville showing up with his wife, night after night, railing against the gulf drilling moratorium and demanding the President do every stupid thing Gov. Jindal wanted (sand berms, jury-rigged vacuum barges, etc).

    While calling on Boehner to resign over this is obviously unrealistic, this was a pretty good summation as to how Boehner & DeMint’s behavior was a totally unprecedented affront to the office of the President:
    http://www.mediaite.com/online/speaker-john-boehner-should-resign-for-his-unprecedented-insult-to-the-president/

    The problem has nothing to do with lack of fear of the President, it’s instead lack of fear of any consequences from the electorate, no matter how awful the behaviour, and that mainly has to with how broken the current media environment is.

  28. WR says:

    @jan: Oh, it’s Dems YOU talk to. Not a single quote you can cite, not a single link you can list. I’m supposed to take the word of a woman — if you are indeed female — who has claimed to live at least two completely different lives, one in Virginia, one in California.

    It’s true that what I don’t like doesn’t automatically become a lie. But it’s a safer bet than not that if you post it, it is a lie. This is merely among the most obvious and laughable.

    “Democrats I talk to tell me Obama sucks.” Yeah, good luck with that one. You may be the first person ever to flunk out of troll school. The losers of the world have a new queen.

  29. jan says:

    @WR:

    Not a single quote you can cite, not a single link you can list. I’m supposed to take the word of a woman — if you are indeed female — who has claimed to live at least two completely different lives, one in Virginia, one in California.

    Hey, WR, just cough up the hair ball! You’re choking on your words.

    First off, what link can I post when it is my own democratic friends I am referring to — interactive conversations?

    Secondly, where did you ever get that I live in Virginia??? I’ve never even been in Virginia, let alone lived there! I was born and raised in CA., and have two residences in this state — one in the city and one in rural N. CA. You’re making stuff up, WR, or just having a nervous break-down.

  30. ponce says:

    First off, what link can I post when it is my own democratic friends I am referring to — interactive conversations?

    Haha, Jan,

    You’re as transparent as the lamest fringe right bloggers who use their imaginary Democratic friends to spew their crackpot wingnut nonsense.

  31. ketchup or salso says:

    Jan and others may be too young to remember Reagan. He did not use a teleprompter, but a script. http://articles.latimes.com/1988-02-27/news/mn-12133_1_white-house-press

  32. WR says:

    @jan: In other words, you made up some crap to spew around on the internet. But I’m sure Jay Tea will believe you.

  33. Neo says:

    @mantis: The June 24, 1986, edition of The Wall Street Journal featured a story headlined, “President’s Bid to Address the House On Nicaragua Is Rejected by Speaker.” That’s right, no quibbling over the date and time, just a flat-out rejection.

    Let the name of Thomas “Tip” O’Neil be stricken from every book and tablet, stricken from all pylons and obelisks, stricken from every monument of the US of A. Let the name of Thomas “Tip” O’Neil be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of men for all time.