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Obama Speech Fiasco Shows 'Audacity of Weakness'

A Commentary By Michael Barone

Monday, September 05, 2011

I can't remember a more stunning rebuke of a president by a congressional leader than House Speaker John Boehner's refusal to agree to President Barack Obama's demand -- er, request -- that he summon a joint session of Congress to hear the president's latest speech on the economy at 8 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Sept. 7.

Obama's request was regarded as a clever move by some wiseguys in the left blogosphere because that was the exact time of a long-scheduled Republican presidential candidate debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Take that, you guys!

But Boehner smoothly responded that with Congress reconvening late that afternoon, the security sweep necessary for a presidential visit would be impossible and invited the president to speak Thursday. White House officials quickly agreed, scheduling the speech at 7 p.m. EDT to avoid overlap with the first game of the National Football League season.

Not such a big deal, some people are saying. I disagree. I think it illustrates several of the weaknesses of this presidency.

One is a lack of regard for the Constitution. Congress is a separate branch of government, set up by Article 1 of the Constitution, which is not about the executive branch as Joe Biden said in the 2008 vice presidential debate. (Media outfits that dispatched dozens of investigative reporters to Alaska were apparently incapable of discovering this obvious error.)

Before last week, presidents and congressional leaders always agreed privately on scheduling presidential addresses to joint sessions before any public announcement was made. But it appears that no such agreement was made here, just a brusque announcement that had to be retracted.

Another weakness on display was contempt for public opinion. White House press secretary Jay Carney said it was just "coincidental" that the president wanted to speak at the same time as the debate. It was just "one debate of many that's on one channel of many."

But those with memories that go back beyond last week may recall that in May 2009, Obama scrambled to find a venue for a speech at exactly the same time as former Vice President Dick Cheney was scheduled to speak at the American Enterprise Institute on detainee questioning issues. Cheney coolly watched Obama on television and then delivered his own speech.

Ham-handedly trying to bigfoot the opposition is a habit with this president, not a coincidence.

A third Obama weakness is his propensity to charge his political opponents with playing politics when he is doing exactly that himself. In previewing this latest jobs-and-the-economy speech, Carney said that Obama will make the case "that politics is broken and that politics is getting in the way of the very necessary things we need to do."

This from the president who has brushed aside one bipartisan initiative after another, from the health care initiative of Sens. Ron Wyden and Bob Bennett to the recommendations of his own deficit commission, headed by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.

Instead, he has taken a purely partisan course on one issue after another -- and heaped blame on Republicans. He invited House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to his speech at George Washington University and then lambasted him harshly.

Obama has been so consistently blaming Republicans in recent months for not approving the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama that it came as an utter surprise to his deputy press secretary, Josh Earnest, that he hasn't sent them to Congress yet.

The fourth weakness is failure to come up with policies that address situations appropriately. Press briefings suggest that Obama next week will call for an extension of the payroll tax holiday and of unemployment benefits. A case can be made for both, but neither has invigorated the economy yet.

We also hear that he may call for more infrastructure spending. But as the president himself told us, laughing, there aren't actually any shovel-ready projects.

The New York Times reports he may call for "school repairs and retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency." This sounds suspiciously like the weatherization program under which Seattle got $20 million and produced just 14 jobs.

Democrats have criticized Obama on the speech-scheduling flap. James Carville said he was "out of bounds." Salon.com's Cenk Uygur sensed "the audacity of weakness." It reminds me of a phrase describing a character in the 1980s TV series "Dallas" -- "blustering, opportunistic, craven and hopelessly ineffective all at once."

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

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