What the big guns think of Barack Obama’s jobs speech

Sep 8, 2011

Talking Point: Obama gives his big speech on job creation tonight - but how he delivers it will be far more important than what is in it

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama will use a speech to both houses of Congress tonight to unveil a $300bn effort to boost the ailing US economy. Among the measures expected are job-creating infrastructure projects and tax cuts for middle-class voters and businesses.

"Barack Obama has been here before," writes Scott Wilson in the Washington Post. "As he has done before - whether to salvage a candidacy or revive a policy - Obama will resort to a device that has been successful for him in the past: the Big Speech."

Wilson calls the speech to a joint session of Congress "the howitzer of the presidential communications arsenal".

Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times, goes further, reverentially calling this kind of speech "a sacred occasion". She appears to feel some sympathy for Republicans, who are being used as "political props".

"Obama is still suffering from the Speech Illusion, the idea that he can come down from the mountain, read from a Teleprompter, cast a magic spell with his words and climb back up the mountain, while we scurry around and do what he proclaimed," says Dowd.
But it needn't have to come to this. "If the languid Obama had not done his usual irritating fourth-quarter play, if he had presented a jobs plan a year ago and fought for it, he wouldn't have needed to elevate the setting."

And what about the next time Obama has to rescue himself? "How will he up the ante next time? A speech from the space station?"

Whatever Obama announces tonight in his speech, he has one essential problem, which an editorial in the New York Times points out: "[Republicans] refuse to veer from their single-minded goal of cutting spending, blind to any plan that might improve the economy, because that might improve President Obama's re-election chances."

But if Ben Feller in Time magazine is correct, then the Republicans' refusal to play ball will play into Obama's hands. The president's speech is all about "forcing Republicans to own the problem [of unemployment] with him". The underlying strategy? "If Obama can't get his ideas passed heading into his re-election year, he at least hopes to show why he shouldn't take the fall."

Michael Tomasky, writing in the Daily Beast, calls Obama's proposals "modest". But that doesn't matter. "It's not so much what Barack Obama says on Thursday night as how he says it."

Obama too often sounds like "a fourth grader asking the sixth graders to play nice". This time he needs to come out fighting. The speech Tomasky would like Obama to give is stirring and worth a read. Here's a condensed version:

"Now, to my Republican friends. I have made repeated calls for bipartisanship. You have refused to respond in kind, repeatedly. Your Senate leader has said that the most important item on his agenda is not getting the American people jobs, but making sure I lose mine…

"If it's a fight you want, it's a fight you'll get. Not for me, or for my job, but for the American people, for the unemployed and the underemployed… That's a fight I'm thrilled to have, because I am on their side, and you people are on the side of the top two per cent."

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