Trying to move the political spotlight away from the new Senator from Massachusetts and the resultant chaos enveloping health care legislation, President Obama’s team can resort to a time-honored Washington strategy: Change the subject.
By setting his nationally televised State of the Union speech for this week, President Obama is following that approach. He can shift media attention to a White House-controlled presentation while his party huddles (away from C-SPAN cameras). It’s a diversion from the Humpty-Dumpty-like efforts to reassemble the shattered pieces of health care plans.
Obama had delayed setting a date for the State of the Union in hopes it could be a victory lap for his health care bill. Instead, the Jan. 27 date is now a convenient way to distract attention from that agenda. Especially since the oration will be followed by official release of Obama’s budget plans for his second year in office. Also because the speech and budget always involve carefully orchestrated leaks to win favorable media coverage.
The need to change the subject was, of course the game-changing election of Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.). It put an unmistakable exclamation point on the multiple public opinion polls that showed collapsing public support for Obama’s health care agenda and his big-government, big-spending approach.
In action worthy of their Boston Tea Party forebears, citizens of Massachusetts gave an unmistakable signal that they’re mad and not going to take it anymore.
Unfortunately for Obama and his party, his budget is likely to run afoul of those who abhor the explosive growth of government. Yet the White House is already trying to spin it as an historic focus on jobs and fiscal prudence.
Indicators are that the president will announce what he calls historic reductions in parts of the federal budget. No matter how genuine, they will pale in comparison to the spending increases Obama has already put in place and the extra spending he desires.
His announcements will coincide with a critical U.S. Senate vote to raise government’s debt ceiling by $1.9-trillion, to $14.3-trillion overall. It’s a grim reminder of how spending has skyrocketed during 3 years of Democratic majorities in Congress and one year of President Obama in the White House.
Obama’s big speech obviously will give renewed lip service to bipartisanship. But so did his rhetoric in the early months of his first year in office, before his actions went in the opposite direction.
We may hear again that Obama remains convinced that his agenda is right, but he just needs for us to understand it better. As he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos after the Massachusetts votes were in:
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’d you make all the same choices today?
OBAMA: I — look, have I made mistakes through the course of the year? Absolutely. I mean, I don’t think there’s been an interview in which I didn’t talk about some mistakes…
STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s usually about communication though.
OBAMA: … about …
STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s not about policy.
Despite Obama’s record 500+ numbers of media interviews, news conferences and other chances to tout his ideas, he told ABC the problem is that we haven’t heard enough from him. In the president’s words, “I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people… . What I haven’t always been successful at doing is breaking through the noise and speaking directly to the American people in a way that during the campaign you could do.”
The strategy could provoke opponents to roll their eyes as much as when the White House-crasher Salahi’s blamed others, but then took the Fifth Amendment when called to testify.
It’s likely that President Obama’s odes to bipartisanship next week will be mingled with denunciations of what he calls GOP obstructionism, plus Obama’s escalating diatribes casting blame on American businesses. Because he’s lost his 60th Senate vote, everything that fails automatically becomes a convenient excuse to blame others rather than blaming his own agenda.
It’s an extension of Obama’s consistent strategy to blame George W. Bush for our problems. But Massachusetts voters have proven how very high-risk such a strategy is both to Obama and to his party.
If Obama persists in blaming others or claiming we simply misunderstand him, disregarding the message from Massachusetts, many in the GOP will reply, “Go ahead. Make my day.”
Ernest Istook, formerly a U.S. Congressman, is a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation. Cross-posted from www.foundry.org