The Irrelevant President?
Dana Milbank discusses the “atmospherics” of the speech last night. A bit of a look at how it was all perceived, regarded, treated by those in attendance. Some nuggets:
Presidential addresses to Congress are often dramatic moments. This one felt like a sideshow. Usually, the press gallery is standing room only; this time only 26 of 90 seats were claimed by the deadline. Usually, some members arrive in the chamber hours early to score a center-aisle seat; 90 minutes before Thursday’s speech, only one Democrat was so situated.
Relevance? When you can only inspire the filling of 26 of 90 seats in the press gallery, how relevant are you? Or perhaps a better question is, how much news does the press think will actually be made with the speech. If those numbers were a poll, they wouldn’t be a very favorable one.
And enthusiasm. One Democrat arrived early to grab a coveted isle seat? If you’ve ever watched the entrance of a president, it is clear those seats were claimed to get a little face time and flesh pressing with the President. One Democrat was interested.
In fact, as Milbank points out, most of the empty seats (those not in the press gallery) were to be found on the Democratic side:
Almost all Republicans ignored the calls of some within their ranks to boycott the speech. In fact, the empty seats were on the Democratic side. Democrats lumbered to their feet to give the president several standing ovations, but they struggled at times to demonstrate enthusiasm. When Obama proposed payroll tax cuts for small businesses, three Democrats stood to applaud. Summer jobs for disadvantaged youth brought six Democrats to their feet, and a tax credit for hiring the long-term unemployed produced 11 standees.
Obama spoke quickly, urgently, even angrily. Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.) stared at the ceiling. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) scanned the gallery. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) was seen reading a newspaper.
In fact, it is apparent a whole lot of folks in that chamber really didn’t want to be there. Then there’s this:
Republican leaders, having forced Obama to postpone the speech because of the GOP debate, decided they wouldn’t dignify the event by offering a formal, televised “response.” And the White House, well aware of Obama’s declining popularity, moved up the speech time to 7 p.m. so it didn’t conflict with the Packers-Saints NFL opener at 8:30.
Priorities. A presidential speech to a joint session of Congress rates lower than an NFL game (ok, given, it is the opening game of the season, but still). And the GOP waives off a rebuttal? Again, the anticipation of anything new was just not there. And in that department, Obama did not disappoint, serving up old hash and calling it new.
And although Milbank still tries to push the “GOP forced Obama to postpone” meme, it is clear that the bloom is off the Obama rose for good. The supposed best orator of our era has been outed. He’s all blow and no go. Why be enthusiastic about that? Why even show up?
Well, most showed up because they had to or they were forced too by good old politics:
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) had planned to skip the speech to host a football party, but the Senate majority leader thwarted his plan. “Typical Harry Reid,” Vitter tweeted. “He’s now schdld votes that should’ve been this morn 4 right b4 & right AFTER prez’s speech. Pens me in 2 have 2 stay.”
Interesting when you have to go to lengths like that to assure attendance to a Presidential speech, isn’t it? Moves like probably wouldn’t be necessary if a president was still relevant, would they? The press gallery would be standing room only, Democrats would have arrived hours early to grab isle seats and standing ovations would have been a dozen a minute for a relevant president.
Or at least that’s what history shows us.
Respect is earned, not granted. This president has obviously not yet earned the respect he thinks he deserves. But he is certainly getting the level of respect he has earned.