Sources: Obama totally planned to give a deficit speech, like, months ago

Uh huh. Leadership, Hopenchange-style: Do your level best to avoid the most pressing fiscal issue of the age, then give a vague, gassy speech after Republicans have seized the initiative and claim that you were thinking of doing it all along.

Even HuffPo reporter Sam Stein can’t hide his skepticism:

Several high-ranking administration officials have confirmed that the White House laid out plans for the address as far back as the last calendar year, with the president’s economic team and other senior staff members “meeting regularly since February to put the policy together and work on the speech.”…

Yet build-up to the speech illustrated more than reactions to it. Capitol Hill officials, including the White House’s top allies, say they were left completely in the dark. No one, it appears, knew Obama would deliver an address until his top aide, David Plouffe, announced plans on the Sunday shows. Key aides were briefed on its content only days (if not hours) before the president took the stage.

“Members and staffs had no idea what they were going to say until about four hours before the speech—three days after the speech was announced,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. “It was pretty ham-handed in its roll out and members weren’t pleased.”…

Another White House official described the planning as even more specific, asserting, “Its been on the schedule for the Wednesday after the [continuing resolution avoiding a government shut down] was resolved for months now.” Because a vote on the continuing resolution was delayed on several occasions, the date of the speech remained, consistently, in flux…

As late as the Tuesday night before the speech was delivered, one extremely close White House ally professed to not having a clue about what would be said. “I don’t think they have briefed anyone and I am not sure the speech is done!”

This is going to sound crazy, I know, but hear me out. Let’s say, purely hypothetically, that Obama doesn’t give a wet rip about the deficit and, to the extent that he was planning a speech months ago, it was only because he knew the new GOP House was going to raise the issue. Wouldn’t that explain why no one except his inner circle knew what would be in it until the last possible moment, and why the finished product ended up being laughably hazy on specifics? The whole thing has the ring of having been thrown together as a pure reaction to Ryan’s plan, no? Last week I compared it to his 2008 race speech insofar as it was something forced on him by political exigencies and not a subject he wanted to engage, but I’ll bet ideas for a speech on race were being kicked around Team Hopenchange months before he delivered that one too — just in case something happened and he had to tackle the issue. Same here. Does anyone in their right mind think Barack Obama wants to have an “adult conversation” with the electorate about hard choices on entitlements just as his reelection campaign is gearing up? Seniors already hate him for ObamaCare; the last thing he wants to do is to freak them out anew over cost curves and “fiscal reality” and certain people maybe having to do more with less, even after we tax the rich into oblivion. He gave his speech, pure and simple, because the GOP laid the debt issue on the table and Ryan’s plan presented a luscious opportunity for vote-grabbing Mediscare tactics. I can’t believe anyone on either side suspects differently, especially after The One declined to use his initial 2012 budget proposal in March to push this issue front and center.

Two questions for you to mull over while you ponder his alleged gravitas and leadership. One: In light of reports that neither side is taking his new deficit “working group” particularly seriously — why should they? He ignored his own Deficit Commission and, by forming a new rival quasi-commission, he’s threatening to overshadow the Gang of Six. It’s a pointless endeavor. And two, more broadly: Eyeball the numbers in Philip Klein’s new post about taxing the rich and see if you can come up with a number that would constitute their “fair share” of taxes. Even a 100% tax wouldn’t get us out of the woods debt-wise, but no one’s seriously proposing that. So what are they proposing? What’s “fair” in this case?

Update: Think he wants to have this conversation either?