Were you impressed by the pageantry and pomp of the joint-session setting for what turned out to be a mundane and insubstantial campaign speech? Neither were the Republicans and Democrats who had to attend the event, nor was Dana Milbank. He answered a question Jazz Shaw asked here last week about presidents and irrelevancy (via Bruce McQuain):
The lawmakers weren’t particularly hostile toward the president — they just regarded the increasingly unpopular Obama as irrelevant. And the inclination not to take the 43-percent president seriously wasn’t entirely limited to the Republicans.
The nation is in an unemployment crisis, and Obama was finally, belatedly, unveiling his proposals, but Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) thought this joint session of Congress would be a good time to ask Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to autograph a copy of the children’s book “House Mouse, Senate Mouse.” …
Almost all Republicans ignored the calls of some within their ranks to boycott the speech. In fact, the empty seats were on the Democratic side. Democrats lumbered to their feet to give the president several standing ovations, but they struggled at times to demonstrate enthusiasm. When Obama proposed payroll tax cuts for small businesses, three Democrats stood to applaud. Summer jobs for disadvantaged youth brought six Democrats to their feet, and a tax credit for hiring the long-term unemployed produced 11 standees.
Obama spoke quickly, urgently, even angrily. Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.) stared at the ceiling. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) scanned the gallery. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) was seen reading a newspaper. And Republicans, when they weren’t giggling, were mostly silent.
As I argue in a piece at CNN, a lack of interest shouldn’t surprise anyone — considering that Obama drew them there to watch a rerun:
In the film “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray has to live through the exact same day thousands of times. In this administration, most Americans can be forgiven for feeling as though they’ve lived through the same economic speech from President Obama nearly as many times. Given the extraordinary setting of a joint session of Congress, one has to question the notion of scheduling a rerun against the first-run debates taking place among Republican challengers to this president. …
It isn’t as if Obama had promised anything new. The “plan” — which still has not been released — consists of getting money to states to supposedly save the jobs of teachers and first responders, accelerating public-works projects, extending the payroll tax cut put into place in the December tax deal, and extending jobless benefits for at least another year. In case readers have forgotten, that’s what Obama called for in the 2009 jobs plan in the stimulus package.
At the time, Obama promised that by spending over $800 billion in borrowed money, we would keep unemployment below 8%. Had that approach worked, Obama wouldn’t have had to make a speech at all yesterday. His need to offer a Groundhog Day moment asking for a rerun of the stimulus blank check reveals just how badly his economic policies have failed — and just how bereft this administration is of any new ideas to replace them.
Thanks to the structure of the federal government and the power vested in the executive, only a President can make himself irrelevant. And this President seems well on his way to accomplishing that very outcome. Even Democrats in Congress can’t hide the boredom any longer.