President Obama thought he would open his 2012 re-election campaign with a bit of big-footing that would show the GOP presidential candidates gathered at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley next week who was going to set the agenda and call the tune.
Despite White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's bald face lie about the timing of the president's proposed speech to a Joint Session of the Congress being a coincidence, no one The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza was my guest on the radio show Tuesday and summarized the situation crisply:
"At this level of politics, right, we’re talking about the highest level. I’m talking about the presidency, as well as the race to nominate someone against him. There are not coincidences like this. This debate has been on the books for quite some time. When Mitt Romney announced that he was going to say something about the economy on September 6th, there was plenty of writing about the fact that now September 6th and September 7th were taken, because of the debate. They knew what they were doing here. I think they knew that they believe that they wanted to force people to make a decision both in terms of what they were watching, as well as try to draw a contrast. You know, I think the White House viewed it, and probably still continues to view it, as a beneficial contest for them, the President talking about jobs and the economy in a very formal setting, while Republicans are debating in a much more free-wheeling setting where we assume that there’ll be some, you know, certainly some attacks on President Obama, but they’ll probably attack one another a little bit, too, that they like that contrast. So no, I don’t buy that this was just a happy coincidence. And I’d say this if it was a Republican in the White House and Democrats debating. There aren’t coincidences like this as this moment.
Cillizza was right of course, and the president's team must have chuckled about how smart they were to monkeywrench the GOP this way.
How utterly Alinksyite. How Chicago.
Except House Speaker John Boehner wasn't going to allow his co-equal Legislative branch of government to be manipulated by the Executive just because the Executive needed a cheap political stunt.
This president has never quite got the idea of three, co-equal branches of government. He governs by diktat when he couldn't get even his supermajorities to act during the two years he had them.
And he refuses to defend laws he disagrees with in the courts even though they were duly enacted by a past Congress and signed by a past president.
He entered into the Libyan adventure without any authority from Congress and set a new standard of contempt for the War Powers Act which while unconstitutional has at least received a nod from past presidents.
The list is long, and it includes berating the justices of the Supreme Court when they were assembled for the State of the Union address.
Imagine his surprise when tough John Boehner, who has been around the Legislative Branch many years, and wily Mitch McConnell, another Hill veteran, considered the president's demand for a Wednesday night joint session. Perhaps they channeled the late Robert Byrd who, though as partisan a Democrat as one could imagine, was also stickler for the status of the Congress as partner not servant of the Executive Branch.
So oh so gently the Speaker put the knife in the president's political stunt. A quiet, respectful letter, some words about security sweeps, getting back late, tough to arrange, and a "how about the 8th?" and the deed was done.
The president's big stunt is now opposite the NFL opener.
Good luck with that.
Here's the bottom line: What if the president's brain trust is as overrated as his economic all star line-up was?
What if his political handlers are in fact keystone cops, just as his speechwriter shop turned out to be a freshman composition class on extended spring break?
In short, what if the president's glass jaw on all manner of issues is thrust out and headed for a smash-up on the campaign trail.
Imagine a flop next week, with low ratings, polite applause and much laughing from the pundits gathered and the electronic media the next day.
Visualize the stilted, teleprompter-dependent rhetoric we have grown used to and the painful windy endless answers the White House press corps has indulged in him all these years but deployed daily on the long re-election campaign trail ahead.
Think of an old rock-and-roller who has lost his voice and his timing, and soon begins to notice the crowds thinning.
By the time the president gets to Charlotte it will take a tremendous act of will to rally the country to watch yet another Obama speech, and the debates --if he agrees to them at all-- will not feature John McCain, but Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney or Rick Perry, any one of whom will present a considerable challenge to the president who has already exhausted his national audience with dozens of verbal tricks from "Let me be clear" to "folks like me."
Opening the president's campaign with a stunt that backfires could be the omen we look back on, like Jimmy Carter's rabbit. For the sake of the country and the world, we should hope so.