Obama Outsmarts Himself on Speech

Team Obama Trips on its Shoelaces Before Fall Campaign Kickoff

“It's been a long time since Congress was focused on what the American people need them to be focused on. I know that you're frustrated by that. I am, too.”

-- President Obama in an email to political supporters asking them to watch his speech on the economy next week

Maybe House Speaker John Boehner did President Obama a favor by rebuffing his request to give an economic speech to a joint session of Congress at the same time as a long-scheduled Republican presidential debate.

The most notable prior occasion when Obama sought to step on a Republican rival’s moment in such a fashion was on May 21, 2009, when the president opted to preempt a speech by former Vice President Dick Cheney on terrorist detainee policy. Obama gave his talk, Cheney gave his and then a Democratically controlled Congress sided with the guy they call Darth Vader and refused to allow Obama to import the inmates on the Guantanamo Bay prisoner of war camp.

More On This...

    Obama had put his presidential prestige on the line – quite considerable in those early days of his administration – against the most reviled member of the hugely unpopular previous administration and got shown up. The same thing might have happened if Obama had gotten his way and pushed back by an hour the NBC/Politico debate set for next week. Republican frontrunners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, both running on jobs platforms, might have had much of the following two hours to offer searing rejoinders to a speech that will necessarily be a policy patchwork.

    But it could at least be said of the face-off with Cheney that Obama was engaged in the spoken version of a point-counterpoint editorial. He just used his presidential prerogative to claim the top of the page. The bid to preempt the Republican debate, though, was just about politics.

    It’s Perry’s first debate appearance and the first time that many independents are likely to hear from the Texas governor. Obama’s speech is the kickoff for the next level in his escalating re-election campaign aimed at demonstrating that while he may have a job approval rating lower than a post-Katrina George W. Bush, he is still the man in command of Washington.

    Imagine the thought process at the White House: Have to give the speech next week – waiting any longer to release the jobs plan would be a disaster. Can’t go Monday, it’s Labor Day. Tuesday is out -- Congress isn’t in session yet. Thursday’s a no-go because it’s the NFL kickoff. You can’t get roadblocked prime-time coverage if the Packers and the Saints are playing. Friday? Nobody would watch. It’s got to be Wednesday. He’s the president, they’re just wannabes. We’ll make them move it. Brilliant.

    The problem with the plan, though, is that the president can only address Congress at the invitation of the speaker of the House. If the White House did what protocol demands and consulted with the speaker, it would have given Boehner the chance to upend their plan in private: “Gee, I’m not really a Packers fan, but I kinda wanted to see my party’s presidential debate, maybe Thursday?”

    So the whiz kids at the White House figured they could embarrass Boehner into accepting the date: a quick call to notify the speaker of the request and then, blamo, a public announcement. But Boehner was blunt, not clever, and just did in public what he would have done in private: “Gee…” Once the president had played politics with his request, it gave Boehner all the cover he needed to politicize his response.

    The timing of the speech isn’t really important as it relates to jobs. If Obama has been sitting on a bombshell plan that can win bipartisan accord in Congress it will be plenty discussed whenever and however he released it. If the plan is a bunch of small-scale policy retreads or a call for politically impossible large-scale measures or some combination of the two, the speech will be little more than a campaign ad in which Obama casts himself as the reasonable man battling an unreasonable system (Obama 2012: He too is very disappointed in how everything has worked out).

    This spat with Boehner, though, does matter in so far as what it tells us about the way the president thinks and how his team works: They have a tendency to outsmart themselves.

    Whether it is freighting the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 with a bunch of talking points about the equivalent suffering of other societies, deflecting criticism of his vacation by promising to spend his trip working on his jobs plan or, most consequentially, pushing a health care law at a time of economic anxiety, the president always seems to find a way to complicate situations both good and bad.

    The president will still get some good visuals to be replayed on TV next Friday – the big flag, the cheering members of Congress etc. – but he ended up with an early-evening time slot ahead of the NFL kickoff, draining viewership and gravitas from the event. Democrats may say that Rick Perry is dumb, but this all looks too clever by half.

    Palin Faces Hazards in Alternate Course

    “Perhaps it was an honest mistake, or perhaps they are trying to cause a divide among our powerful movement… Because I really doubt anyone from Palin's team would say such blatant inaccuracies.”

    -- Tweets from perennial Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell about a scheduling showdown with Sarah Palin at an Iowa Tea Party event

    The political byways are littered with the bones of presidential candidates who believed they could defy the old rules of presidential politics. Here’s Fred Thompson’s patella. There’s Howard Dean’s clavicle. Over yonder is the burned-out hulk of the Straight Talk Express.

    One can innovate inside the existing framework, stealing the ideas or learning from the mistakes of their more revolutionary predecessors. There would be no Barack Obama if Dean hadn’t shown the power of the netroots. Rick Perry got a lesson in the need to meet big expectations (and not test voters’ patience) from watching Thompson fizzle in 2008.

    But that doesn’t stop new political revolutionaries from trying. Jon Huntsman has ended up essentially campaigning by attacking several core beliefs of the Republican electorate. He scored below 1 percent in the latest Mason-Dixon poll in Florida, and that’s the state where he has his campaign headquarters and most focused spending.

    The question now roiling the Republican world is whether Sarah Palin is going to run. She increasingly looks like the only person who can pose a serious challenge to Rick Perry in the bid to unite the Republican right.

    Perry is hauling in cash with the help of big poll numbers as conservative Republicans look for someone who can block the more moderate Mitt Romney from the nomination. Romney, who has remade his political strategy in recent days to directly confront Perry, would certainly like to see Palin jump in and sap support from the Texan.

    But one thing that Palin makes clear is that she hates the strictures of conventional candidacy: the big staffs, the leaks, the egos, the talking points, the rigid campaign calendar.

    To get around that during her extended testing the water phase, Palin has relied on the help of Tea Party groups and local activists. They provide the organization and she provides the crowds and the news coverage.

    This week, though, organizers of an Iowa Labor Day rally badly botched the scheduling and apparently invited Christine O’Donnell, she of the most glaring Tea Party fiasco of 2010, to take the stage ahead of headline Palin. Not cool. That associates Palin with marginal figure O’Donnell and gives the headline hungry political gadfly a chance to hijack media coverage of the event. They ironed it out and sent O’Donnell packing, but not before days of leaks and sniping and silliness.

    The organizers likely just didn’t have the knowledge and experience to know that when you have a big time politician speaking, certain rules must be followed – primarily, don’t make them look bad. Grassroots energy is great, but grassroots bumbling is not.

    The lesson here is that if Palin were to run, she would need her own big, bulky campaign. And even if she gets to pick the people, there will still necessarily be staffs, leaks, egos, talking points, and a rigid campaign calendar. Not only is it drudgery, Perry and Romney already have top-tier teams and money in the bank. Their drudgery would be better funded and better organized to start.

    When it comes to the will-she-or-won’t-shes of Palinology, if the former governor is considering whether it’s really any better to be a bird in a gilded cage of her own making than one constructed by the McCain campaign, she’ll fly the coop instead.

    And Now, A Word From Charles

    “When Jay Carney says, ‘And I can honestly say that this was a coincidence that the original scheduling land on the Republican debate,’ you have to ask yourself, how much are they paying him? And whatever it is, it's not enough.”

    -- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report w/Bret Baier

    ***Today on Power Play w/Chris Stirewalt: The show is living up to its name, with big guest Newt Gingrich. He’ll give his take on whether or not the president really tried to hijack the GOP spotlight. Also, Virginia Senate candidate Jamie Radtke talks about the hostile attacks against the Tea Party. Don’t miss a minute at 11:30am ET at live.foxnews.com***