Today is Labor Day, and it is now little more than three days before Barack Obama is slated to give his landmark address on job creation.
He was, as you probably know, going to give his speech on Wednesday — but, as usual, someone in this White House failed to do the most basic of legwork, which would have quickly revealed that a debate between the Republican presidential candidates had been scheduled for that day.
In fact, it has been scheduled for several months, and it is taking place at the library that bears the name of the Republicans' 20th century idol, Ronald Reagan.
It took no special powers of prognostication to anticipate the donnybrook that would follow Obama's hasty and ill–advised announcement of the original scheduling of this speech — or to predict that Obama would be forced to back down.
Yep, a little legwork could have prevented this president from a totally unnecessary and embarrassing scheduling confrontation with congressional Republicans that he was sure to lose.
But it was really no surprise that this administration — in its leap–before–you–look fashion — didn't bother with the details. They would only get in the way of imposing The One's will.
Anyway, when he did lose that one — in what may have been the most predictable result in a lifetime of observing American politics — Obama moved his speech back a single day — putting it in direct competition with the first pro football game of the 2011 season.
It is typical of the ham–handed way this administration operates.
Apparently, now that Obama's presidency is clearly in jeopardy (I have felt that way for a long time, but now, even Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, who was one of the first to climb aboard the Barack Obama Express, before it pulled out of the station, concedes that Obama is "a guy in a really bad spot"), job creation has taken on a new urgency ...
(The fierce urgency of now.)
In fact, I can only presume that, from Barack Obama's vantage point, the unemployment crisis must have emerged from out of the blue, like the attack on Pearl Harbor — because it is usually only that kind of emergency that prompts a president to address a joint session of Congress.
Presidents, of course, speak to joint sessions of Congress when they give their annual State of the Union speeches, but, otherwise, an address to a joint session of Congress typically is given when the nation faces an unexpected emergency — like a Pearl Harbor.
A speech to a joint session of Congress — whether it is by a president or a foreign dignitary or someone else — is not the sort of thing Congress likes to allow very often. It turns the lawmakers' domain into a stage for someone else.
I don't think anyone disagrees that the joblessness crisis is a serious emergency — even the moral equivalent of war — but it has been far from an unexpected emergency, just an ignored one.
Consequently, I do not think there is anything about the current situation that truly warrants a speech before a joint session of Congress. A speech from the Oval Office would be more appropriate, I think — but, for some reason, Obama doesn't like to give speeches there.
The unemployment situation was an emergency 2½ years ago, when monthly job losses were in six digits — but Obama obsessed instead about health care and his first Supreme Court nomination. That was how he chose to spend his political capital — along with spending the first Labor Day of his presidency preparing to address the schoolchildren of America.
Unemployment was 9.5% in September of 2009 — it's 9.1% now.
Why wasn't it a crisis worthy of a speech to a joint session of Congress then instead of now?
Probably because he hadn't been president for a full year in September 2009, and he still enjoyed (to an extent) the traditional honeymoon relationship a new president enjoys. But in September 2011, he is about 14 months from facing an increasingly frustrated electorate — a majority of whom, as Dowd correctly observes, "still like and trust the president," but that isn't what a re–election campaign is about.
Obama was able to win the first time because he has a knack for fancy speechmaking. He promised "hope" and "change," and that sounded good to a lot of people.
But that won't do it this time. No matter how much the voters may like Obama, he will be judged by the results of his presidency. How much change has there been? In Reagan's words, are you better off than you were four years ago?
And job approval surveys suggest that most voters do not believe Obama has delivered because he has been steadily losing ground.
Talk is cheap for incumbents. For an incumbent's words to have any meaning, any value, they must be in harmony with reality, however harsh that reality may be.
It is not necessary for a president to have perfect political pitch, but if he and the voters are in sync, so much the better. To accomplish that, he must enlist the voters as his allies. He must take them into his confidence and explain to them why he believes certain things are necessary.
I have often felt that this president must be tone deaf — because, in virtually every situation he has faced since taking office, he has taken the position that is all but certain to arouse the wrath of the most people or his response has been slow and plodding.
To say this president has been disengaged with joblessness is to severely understate the situation. He has been disengaged on practically all things. The "Obamacare" legislation that stands as the president's signature achievement wasn't even authored by the White House. That responsibility was turned over to congressional Democrats.
But this president isn't just tone deaf. He's dumb and blind, too, the "Tommy" of American presidents.
I don't really have a choice about whether to listen to him on Thursday. I have a news writing/gathering class to teach on Thursday evening, and if my students ask me about the presidential address, I will tell them it is important for working journalists to listen to a presidential address.
But if it is still in progress when I get home — and it probably will not be — I will choose to watch the football game.
As I wrote the other day, I've stopped listening to him — unless it leaks out that he is going to announce something truly bold.
Otherwise, I'll pass. I have no desire to hear another State of the Unionesque laundry list of general (and mostly unrelated) proposals or a rerun of his 2008 stump speech.
Talk is cheap, Mister President. Let's see some action. Real action.