(Pete Souza/White House)
Let's just stipulate up front that the date of President Barack Obama's latest speech is irrelevant. No one really gives a shit about whether it's on Tuesday or Thursday or next year. To be frank, Obama's ability to drive any narrative is just about zero. They have been in reactive mode for the last several years, and there's no indication that's going to change.
But Obama wants to give a speech, and he schedules it for Wednesday. His team runs it by House Speaker John Boehner, hears nothing, and assumes all is kosher. Big mistake number one.
They announce the date. It conflicts with the latest GOP beauty pageant, giving Boehner a new excuse to embarrass Obama. The GOP machine goes on the offensive.
Obama has two options:
1) Immediately say, "That's cool, we'll do it another day." The date, again, is inconsequential. Why get in a fight over this?
2) Go on the offensive. Make the argument that Obama chose the day because it was the first day Congress was back in session. What's more important to the American people than jobs? And anyway, the White House ran it by Boehner and he had no objections, so why is he freaking out now?
Either one would've been fine. But instead, we got a crazy hybrid—the White House initially went on the offensive, called Boehner a liar, started working reporters on a pushback campaign, and then, suddenly, collapsed to Boehner.
It was the worst of all worlds. Rather than look accommodating or strong, the White House came off looking indecisive and weak. All over the biggest non-story of the month. It was a great way to cap off a dismal August.
And dismal it was:
Obama's fiercest defenders rushed to rationalize yesterday's mess. "He looks like the grownup in the room!" Maybe. But no one gives a shit. Look at the numbers above. "Boehner came off looking childish!" Maybe, but so what? He's not running for national office. "Who cares, this doesn't matter!" Yup, it doesn't matter, other than the fact that we have a whole new slew of headlines
making Obama look weak:
For anyone really wanting Obama to be reelected, this kind of shit isn't helpful. Actually, it's kind of disastrous—feeding into a now-established narrative that Obama is weak and won't stand up to Republicans. Heck, Pew recently found that even a significant number of Republicans want Obama to more forcefully stand up to the GOP's economic terrorists.
Bottom line, if Obama's approach to governing was proving popular, then there'd be little fault. If triangulating against liberals bolstered his numbers with independents, then that'd be cool! Heck, if slapping my first-born in the face bumped his numbers up with independents, I'd tolerate it. But it's not. His current approach isn't working. Capitulating to the GOP on matters big (and small) only reinforce the notion that he's weak. No one cares that he's the "grownup" in the room. No one cares that he's "reasonable" or "compromising" or "serious." Here's the chart again, for emphasis:
And if that chart above doesn't deliver that message, then just remember 2010.
Look, we all need Obama reelected in 2012. Sure there's an idiot fringe who fantasizes about a primary challenge, but bottom line, the president has to win next year. It would be nice if his reelection could be assured because of strong and effective leadership, as opposed to hoping he survives thanks to whatever deranged candidate the GOP primary electorate vomits up. In other words, it'd be nice if the electorate voted for him as opposed to against the GOP.
On the current trajectory, we're unfortunately on track for the latter. If we're lucky.
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