Within all the confusion over the prospects of health care reform, the underwear bomber and Senator Reid’s controversial remarks, this is the first year I can remember since I arrived in Washington that Americans still don’t know when the President will deliver his annual State of the Union address before Congress. President Obama is inadvertently telegraphing to the American people is that the State of the Union remains in flux. And while we all know that it will eventually happen in late January or early February, it adds to the long list of unnecessary of political headaches for the White House to handle.
When I worked for Speaker Hastert, our office would start getting questions in December from the media about when the President would deliver his annual address. Our team knew without hesitation that this question must be answered quickly to show strength, resolve and determination. Not knowing how to answer this question invites weakness, political blood in the water because we simply did not have our act together.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked on January 8th when the President would make his nationally televised speech. He simply dodged the question and said it would not take place on the same night as the three-hour premiere of the final season of ABC’s “Lost.” “I don’t foresee a scenario in which millions people who hope to finally get some conclusion with ‘Lost’ are preempted by the president,” Gibbs said. “You can quote a senior administration official.”
One guess is that the White House won’t interfere with the network premiere because it doesn’t need to compete with the show. The Democratic Party has already unveiled its own political drama called “ADRIFT.” The season began a smashingly successful opening with frowns, hurt feelings and confusion over national security, racism and domestic policy. With counterterrorism officials asleep at the controls over Christmas, the underwear bomber strikes. A TSA security guard walks off the job causing a man to sneak through and shut down the Newark Airport. Not to mention the TSA cameras also seem to not work over the holidays. Even Jack Bauer would have a tough time matching this plot.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid takes the show in a remarkably different direction with racially insensitive remarks that makes the Democratic Party scramble to contain the crisis losing valuable planning and message opportunities at the beginning of the year. Let’s not forget to mention the show’s new special guest, Carlos Allen who stands as the accused third party crasher at the White House State Dinner. And now Massachusetts, the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat is in real danger!
But the real plot circles around finding a real domestic agenda. The White House remains in a struggle to move a health care bill that no one seems to like through Congress. Only then can they begin tackling issues that might actually help them in November. And what that domestic agenda will be is still anyone’s guess even though most Democratic politicians want to do something to help skyrocketing unemployment and boost the economy.
If the past several weeks are any reflection of what kind of rollercoaster this year will be, then I plan to record ABC’s premier of LOST and watch it later. I will be keeping my channel tuned inside-the-Beltway this year. It is the type of cliffhanger that could keep any political junkie guessing.
Ron Bonjean is the owner of the Bonjean Company, a full-service public-affairs firm. He was chief of staff for the Senate Republican Conference under Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and the top spokesman for then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), -Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), -U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans and other House members. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org