A funny thing happened on the way to President Obama’s big jobs address given to a joint session of Congress. Like so many things in this Chief Executive’s life even the relatively routine matter of getting the speech scheduled at a time of the president’s choosing became a major controversy.
The Tuesday Obama wanted to give his speech fell on the same night the Republican presidential challengers were scheduled to gather for a debate. This sparked cries that the president was trying to big foot the Republicans so Speaker John Boehner asked the president to move his speech to Thursday instead. The White House conceded to Boehner’s request and immediately the howls when up how Obama had caved to the Republicans–again.
But it also brought to light a different issue. How little the GOP seems to respect this particular president.
When she was House speaker, Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California verbally tormented President George W. Bush. (Ms. Pelosi’s description of Mr. Bush as “an incompetent leader” comes to mind.) Dick Armey, a Republican former lawmaker from Texas and now a Tea Party leader, referred derisively to Bill Clinton as “your president” when speaking to Democrats. President Ronald Reagan sparred often with Democrats on the Hill.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said this year that his first goal was to see Mr. Obama defeated.
“The closest we have come to this was Tom DeLay’s hatred for Clinton when he demanded impeachment of him,” said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group. “But that was one guy or a handful. Now it is much more widespread, and the toxicity is, and culture is different now.”
Mr. Ornstein pointed to the fight over the payroll tax cut sought by the Obama administration — one that many Congressional Republicans supported in 2009 but oppose now — as an example of Republicans’ opposing Mr. Obama even when they had agreed with him on a policy.
Mr. Obama has had his own contributing role. Often when he has met with Republicans he has taken a scolding tone that irks them. Even some of his fellow Democrats viewed his attempt to schedule an address on job creation before a joint session of Congress next Wednesday — the same night as a major Republican presidential debate — as clumsy if not downright rude. It then became embarrassing when Mr. Obama capitulated and changed the date to Thursday at 7 p.m., as Mr. Boehner wanted.
But the dynamic, which Democrats largely blame Republicans for, has irked many of them, especially on the Hill. “I think it is unprecedented of a leader in the Senate of either party to say the most important goal he has is to make the current president a one-term,” said Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California. “That is about respect, that is about priorities and it is just wrong.”
Julian E. Zelizer, a political scientist at Princeton, said that when it comes to Mr. Obama, Republicans “just keep gaining confidence to force his hand.”
“While there might be a few people whose words have become nastier than usual, I think this is really the new normal in Washington with a president who is always on the ropes,” Professor Zelizer said. “I am not convinced that is about lack of respect so much as the feeling that this is a weak president. If the president seemed more powerful they would have returned the call.”
The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said Thursday that the administration spent “zero” time worrying about whether Republicans in Congress are showing the president the respect that the office deserves. “You guys care much more about this than we do,” he scolded reporters who asked about the relationship between Mr. Obama and Congressional Republicans.
I count myself among the ranks of the “you guys” that Carney dismisses. If the president continues to act like a doormat he shouldn’t be surprised if Republicans wipe their feet on him.
Washington is a place of power and with power comes respect. I’m not exactly sure how Obama can command the respect that is due him as benefits his office, but a show of strength might help.
Back in the day of the first George Bush, disrespecting presidents was called “the wimp factor” and since then every man that’s held the office has come in for more than the usual kind of criticism that’s expected.
Any president is going to face natural adversaries. No matter how popular a president or his policies are, someone is going to dislike both intensely.
I’m not going to pull the race card (this time at least), because this is Obama’s fault to an extent. Obama is slow to anger and even slower to show it for reasons I can speculate upon but hesitate to say. Even if Obama knows in his heart of hearts some of the shit slung at him is based upon his race, he’d never say it out loud. He’d be denounced as a whiner and it’s a fight he would never win.
Presidents can be seen as weak, even as ineffectual, but if they look like they’re going to cry because they get punched in the jaw, they’re done. Nobody respects a crybaby.
I won’t be listening to his speech next week just to hear what he has to say about creating jobs. That’s the most important part, but how he says it will matter just as more.
If he challenges the Republicans to step up and do something more than obstruct and oppose anything he proposes because he’s proposing it I’ll be pleased. Some have suggested Obama has been playing defense and executing a clever version of Muhammad Ali’s “rope-a-dope” strategy against George Foreman.
The thing is, Ali eventually came off the ropes to knock out Foreman. If Obama’s strategy is to keep taking roundhouse rights and upper-cuts until the Republicans punch themselves out and get arm weary, it doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect.
If he’s pleading yet again with the Republicans to hold hands and sing “We Are the World” and show his willingness to reach across the aisle in the spirit of bipartisan bullshit, I’ll retch and be disappointed as I choke down the bile rising in my throat.
Right now, I expect disappointment. Obama needs a Ali-style knockout of a speech. He’s past the point of covering up, clenching and jabbing as he waits to be saved by the bell. The Republicans are coming to take his title.
I know Obama can fight. I’m just not sure if he will.