This was really strange. A president of the United States, elected to represent all of the people, and a Speaker of the House, elected by one small district and his party regulars in the House facing down each other on national television. I can’t think of any other time this has happened as a major national issue was in sharp conflict between the two political parties in America. Very strange.
House Speaker John Boehner, riding the tiger of tea party inspired new members of Congress, has made a major mistake, a major miscalculation. While his counter Obama speech would obviously be well received by most Republicans and all of those who rally round the tea party flag (is there a flag?) Boehner’s miscalculation is to confront the president so directly in this manner.
Obama wants a blank check, Boehner claimed and then said, “That isn’t going to happen”. So Boehner is now in charge of America’s government, top to bottom? Who elected or appointed him to this role?
There could be a firestorm of criticism of Boehner and the Republicans heading to Washington, DC. I am not talking about the way Democrats or other partisans will view this. I mean what the large body of the American public might feel and their gut reaction.
The presidency occupies a unique position in American government and in the American soul. We want to admire and help our presidents and we want them to be successful (unlike the opposition, which wants them to fail). Rally round the flag is the call of war like patriotism. Rally round the president is the call of those who believe in our national story and want us to continue as a successful nation. Whatever Boehner has going for him, he is not the president and, tonight, he and the Republicans in the House stepped over the line. They might not like what could soon be coming their way from the voters and citizens at large. They are in for some heavy flak from the public and, if the whole thing turns even more toward no progress, the reaction could be a firestorm.
As for the style and substance of the two speeches, Obama did not rise to new heights, although he did, without much fire, call on the public to back what he calls a balanced approach. Boehner made clear why he is Speaker and not president: he looked and sounded like a lower level, B-grade movie actor trying to audition for a big part. If you love Republicans and drink out of a “no new taxes” cup every morning, you probably thought Boehner was fine. There is no doubt who was the class act of the two, however.
As for substance, Boehner was mainly preaching to the choir. His speech was notable for its lack of kind words, grace notes, for president Obama and the efforts made to date to reach a compromise agreement. Boehner was speaking as though he was addressing some closed door meeting of devout anti-taxers when the whole nation was watching and looking for a sign that Boehner, and Washington generally, understands the need for reason. He was speaking to rally the troops, rather than the nation and his narrow focus, and down right meanness, will likely come back to haunt him and his party.
From my view, Obama did not say anything new to convince that he and the Dems are not responsible for the mess. Many voters blame both parties, even though it was the Republicans who decided, after the last confrontation was over, that the debt ceiling was where they would make their latest stand.
In terms of moving all of us a bit down the road to a settlement, I am not sure that either speech accomplished that much. If I am correct, however, in regard to the reaction of the public on the issue of a House Speaker trying to push a president around, look out. We could see one of the greatest, fastest cave-ins in political history. The next three days should tell the story.
9:51 PM, 7.25.11
Here is another point to consider: Who caused this “mess in Washington”? The voters can’t be let off the hook entirely. While it was understandable that people were upset and confused by the economic down turn that his in 2008, the voter’s decision to send so many die-hard, hard right Republicans to the House is the major factor in the current deadlock. Anyone who helped vote these people in to Congress should take part of the responsibility.
Voters are not entirely to blame, because from 300 to 500 million dollars of outside campaign money was poured into the process to undermine Democrats and Obama in 2009 and ‘10. (The Chamber of Commerce had a 100 million dollar campaign of its own, which is part of the total above.) With that much money being spent, the airwaves were saturated with anti-Obama propaganda. Cleverly, the campaign blamed Obama for the recession, for proposing a health care plan and for just about everything else that went wrong, even though most of the “bailouts” took place in the final months of the G.W. Bush administration. It is fair to ask if our democracy and nation can survive with this kind of money being spent to influence voters.