Obama and 'the great speech kerfuffle': 5 lessons

While the economy sputters, Washington fixates on the speech-scheduling spat between John Boehner and President Obama

House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama
(Image credit: Olivier Douliery/Pool/Corbis)

President Obama and Republicans played a high-profile game of chicken this week, after the White House scheduled the president's much-hyped address on jobs on the same night as a long-planned Republican presidential debate. House Speaker John Boehner asked Obama to postpone the speech to a joint session of Congress by one day. The president agreed, only to find that the new time, on Sept. 8, coincided with the kickoff for the NFL's new season. What lessons should we take from "the great speech kerfuffle of 2011"? Here are five:

1. Obama is a wimp

"It was foolish of the White House" to schedule Obama's address at the same time as the debate in the first place, says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast. But Obama's "capitulation" to Boehner just makes him look weak. And the rumor is that Obama's jobs plan will be "pretty modest" to boot. It makes you wonder whether Obama will ever stand up and fight for anything.

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2. The GOP doesn't respect Obama

This might be "the first time in history" that a House speaker has turned down a president's request to appear before a joint session of Congress, says Liz Marlantes at The Christian Science Monitor. That just "provides the president’s supporters with yet another piece of evidence that he is not being treated with the deference due (and typically given) the President of the United States."

3. Both parties are as petty as everyone suspected

"Let's be clear — this was not a news story," says Mo Elleithee, a Democratic strategist, as quoted by Politico. "This was scheduling silliness." People don't care whether Obama's speech coincides with the debate or the football game — they want both parties to work together to create jobs. This kind of "political pettiness" makes both sides look terrible, and it explains why everybody in Washington is looking at record low approval ratings.

4. Democrats should be worried

"If this was an attempt to make Republicans look unreasonable, then, in almost every conceivable way, it failed spectacularly," says James Downie at The Washington Post. Even if Obama's original ploy had worked, giving the speech during the GOP debate would only have ensured that fewer people heard it, and that analysts would have paid more attention to "the theatrics" than the message. "If this is a preview of Obama’s re-election campaign, Democrats should be very worried."

5. Football could be a mightier foe than the GOP

The White House rolled the dice when it decided to go up against the Republican Party, says Lucy Madison at CBS News, but it wouldn't dare try to upstage professional football's season opener. Obama will deliver his speech at 7 p.m. ET (just 4 p.m. on the west coast) to avoid stepping on the 8:30 p.m. kickoff. Squaring off against the GOP is one thing, but the NFL is another matter entirely.

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