What the Boehner-Obama speechgate flap is really about

Boehner disses Obama, again.

Republicans derive a benefit from their base by disrespecting the president.

The GOP base wants its leadership to not just oppose Barack Obama, but to go out of its way to obstruct, block, and if at all possible, show open contempt and disrespect for him. Republicans understand that their base will punish them for any hint of respectful, or worse, accommodating behavior toward Obama, and that they will be rewarded by their base for elevating the level of negative attention they give the president.

It’s a permutation of what happened with Bill Clinton. Republicans also derived a benefit, in the form of increased energy and enthusiasm among their base, whenever they did things designed to delegitimize Clinton as president. The problem for Republicans then was that their attacks on Clinton, up to and including calling him a murderer and a drug dealer, and impeaching him over a sex scandal, had the opposite effect with independent voters and moderates, who recoiled from their naked hatred of the commander in chief.

Today’s Republicans, who have been overrun by a hardcore tea party faction in addition to the resurgent religious right, have made the calculation that there is literally no bottom — and no level of disrespect so great that they will pay a price with white independents. They seem to have decided that there is nothing they can do to Barack Obama that will stop them winning in 2012, because they believe, based on 2010, that there are far more people, including independents, who hate Barack Obama for organic reasons that go beyond policy, and go to his person than the polling indicates. It’s pretty clear that Republicans have decided that they can so demonize Barack Obama the person, and raise enough questions about him in the minds of white independents, that the increased zeal their attacks produce among the tea party base will offset any indie backlash and put, say, a Rick Perry over the top, even over the objections of the middle.

That’s the calculation. And that, in my opinion, is what all of this is about.

Case in point: before House Speaker Boehner took the unprecedented step of publicly brushing back the president’s request to address a joint session of Congress next Wednesday, he was being egged on to do just that by none other than Rush Limbaugh. That Boehner decided to puff out his chest on this one is telling. He may or may not have been responding directly to Limbaugh, but as Richard Wolffe said on MSNBC tonight, there is clearly something different going on with this president. Democrats despised George W. Bush, Wolffe pointed out on “The Last Word,” but they never put on this kind of display of blatant disrespect when it came to the ordinary and traditional workings of the legislative and executive branches. And as much as Republicans undermined and sought to destroy Bill Clinton, at the end of the day, even Newt Gingrich was willing to go into the proverbial “back room” and cut deals with him.

There is no deal cutting between this Republican Party and this president, even when Boehner occasionally seems to want to. Republicans understand that they pay a political price with the tea party base if they cooperate with Obama, but they believe they pay no reciprocal price with independents by obstructing him.

And that brings us to the left. It turns out, that part of the reason the GOP leadership can take on board the idea that it will pay no price for crashing through rock bottom in its treatment of President Obama, is that there is a vocal part of the left, including black political leaders and “progressives” — who do it too. Obama has no backstop on the left, and no quarter that reacts loudly when he is attacked. There is no equivalent of RedState.com or the Free Republic or right wing talk radio, which used to go ballistic at the slightest hint of disrespect for President Bush. Quite the converse: the vocal left is as contemptuous of Obama as the vocal right, which clearly gives Republicans more room to push the envelope.

Al Sharpton made this point on his show tonight. Can you imagine, for instance, members of the Congressional Black Caucus erupting over this incredible rebuke of the president by Mr. Boehner, the way they’ve reacted to the tea party? Can you imagine them going ballistic over this in defense of the president? If you can’t, you’re probably right. Can you imagine the vocal left doing so? Can you imagine, say, Glenn Greenwald or John Aravosis or Adam Green of PCCC doing so? You really shouldn’t be able to, because that would never, ever happen.

Obama is in many ways a man literally of the middle, because it is the middle that is keeping his poll numbers in the 40s. It is the middle that is turned off by all of the ugliness. But the middle isn’t vocal. It’s … well, it’s middle. Moderate. And being a man of the middle makes it really hard to fight a movement as nakedly hostile as the tea party with anything other than jujitsu. And there are times when jujitsu isn’t enough for you to win.

And with that, I bring you the news that the White House has blinked on moving the president’s speech date. I’m guessing the White House political team, if they’re true to form, is doing so because they have also made a calculation: that their “true base” — the middle — will give them credit for being the reasonable adults in the room, while letting Boehner look like the bully. And per the David Plouffe political philosophy, they probably calculate that they lose nothing with their true base — the middle — by giving in, while what they lose with the far left, which already hates Obama, is less important in the end because of the tiny relative size of the far left versus the overall electorate.

In other words, the Aravosis-Greenwald-Hamsher crowd is going to shred the president no matter what he does, while the tea party right is going to disrespect and obstruct the president no matter what he does, so the two of them are ballast. All that stays in the balloon is the middle.

That’s my unified theory of Barack Obama, the Republican Party, the left and this latest, really unnecessary flap over a speech by the American president before the Congress.

UPDATE: This passage from the Politico story illustrates my point (emphases added):

The latest sparring began early Wednesday, when Obama’s staff surprised leaders of both parties by informing them the president wanted to reserve a prime-time slot, 8 p.m. ET next Wednesday, to address the House and Senate on the nation’s employment crisis and how he plans to reconcile the need for job creation with the imperative of deficit reduction.

That the White House sprang the speech on short notice to everyone isn’t in dispute. The president’s letter was leaked to the press shortly after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was told of the request.

Republicans were incensed. The address would conflict with Rick Perry’s debut in the POLITICO/NBC Republican presidential debate — which administration officials insisted was pure coincidence.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said the scheduling of Obama’s speech “cements his reputation as campaigner-in-chief.”

Even Democrats were a little miffed, with one top Senate Democratic aide calling the move “pure Obama — keeping us in the dark until the last minute.”

… For a few hours after the letter was made public, an eerie silence prevailed. Then, around 4 p.m., Boehner threw a serious procedural brushback pitch at Obama — urging him to delay his address by a day.

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24 Responses to What the Boehner-Obama speechgate flap is really about

  1. Matt Osborne says:

    I keep noting that Obama enjoys greater popularity than anyone else in Washington. The circus tent can collapse, and he’ll still ride the pole all the way down and end up on top.

  2. George Lowry says:

    The POTUS prognosticator with an unbroken record of correctly predicting the winner (since 1984) sez it’s Obama in walk. So why shouldn’t BHO give the GOP iterative opportunities to look trivial.

    http://thelastword.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/08/31/7543896-oracle-says-obama-will-win-in-2012

  3. Sandy Dover says:

    This is what I have been trying to tell the so-called progressives. Obama has a hellava time with the Hamsher crowd, and dealing with the right wing Fox, and radio losers. I will work hard for the President, if he isn’t re-elected, the voter voted against themselves. They deserve what they get. Don’t come crying to me.

  4. Bmull says:

    Hamsher said nothing about this. Greenwald merely observed that it was a waste of a news cycle. This is simply a Salahi-style screw up on the part of WH staff. Why would anyone try to backstop a mistake?

  5. pinkladee says:

    I am sick to death of all of the turn coat, pick- a- name, supposed to be Dems. Every facet of the party has a different agenda. Most of the time it is difficult to find ONE single cause to get behind because everyone wants his or her agenda item to consume the Presidents full and undivided attegrapntion! Then the folks that are supposed to be behind him are stabbing him in the back! Let’s just cut the Crap! If you are not going to support the POTUS in all truthfulness, then go join the republithugs/teabags and have at it! But to tweet, blog. rally,write op-eds under the cloak or hood of being progressive, profrssional left etc., is downright cowardly and underhanded. It is the job of each and every participant in the political process to DEMAND That the office of the President be respected and that civility be the order of the day!

  6. denise4925 says:

    I think the WH did this on purpose to mk the Rethuglicans look like the petulant spoiled brat children they r to the middle. Why wuld the President want to speak on the same nite as them so that they will have the last word after him?. The President knew whatever he requested we be rebuffed by Boehner. So now he has the last word & he doesn’t lower himself to the level of the fools in the debate. He will have the last news cycle & their stupid added fell for it. Also Greenwald is inconsequential. He just jumps on board the bash Obama bandwagon without any awareness of politics.

  7. denise4925 says:

    I think the WH did this on purpose to mk the Rethuglicans look like the petulant spoiled brat children they r to the middle. Why wuld the President want to speak on the same nite as them so that they will have the last word after him?. The President knew whatever he requested we be rebuffed by Boehner. So now he has the last word & he doesn’t lower himself to the level of the fools in the debate. He will have the last news cycle & their stupidadded fell for it. Also Greenwald is inconsequential. He just jumps on board the bash Obama bandwagon without any awareness of politics.

  8. ABL says:

    Of course FDL has chimed in calling the Administration “incompetent or petty.”

    At this point, the PL and Emo Left are parody. That they made such a huge deal of OMG! OBAMA CAVED AGAIN is laughable. Gee, why wouldn’t Obama not want as many folks as possible to watch the GOP Fail Parade of a debate?

    I wonder if the firebaggers and other members of the Emo Left realize how utterly ridiculous they sound.

    Some folks were suggesting he invoke the constitution to force a joint session. REALLY? jesus h. people. get a grip.

  9. BlueTrooth says:

    I agree with the premise that Republicans are making their calculations based on a perceived “organic” dislike or hatred, but there’s a glitch. The President still has very high “likeable” ratings. Generally around 70%. That doesn’t bode well for Republicans that are playing to the politics of emotion, particularly when it’s almost exclusively a negative theme.

    Regarding the “blink”, I must be close to the middle because I reacted quite positive. My first thought was the audience for the Joint Session will likely be much larger. I had a little back and forth with Markos because I really don’t see the value in the President “forcing” the Joint Session by one day. That would only serve to highlight a “dictatorial” atmosphere. The real goal, in my humble opinion, is getting the attention of the usually distracted. And just as Denise4925 has pointed out, this gives the President ownership of the news cycle and the “last word”.

  10. Changing the speech date is not caving. The President can call a joint session for a State of the Union, but that doesn’t mean he can call sessions any old time or demand to speak on a certain day and time. Anyone, including the President, needs permission of Congressional leadership to address Congress–otherwise a President would have the potential to delay hearings, interrupt votes, and generally disrupt Congress.

    Rethugs believe in authoritarianism and ‘might makes right.’ They win base points for wielding power against the less powerful–being bullies.

    What is it about someone that makes them targets for bullies? Is it nonconformity of clothing or body type? Is it nonathleticism? No, bullies seek out those with no support group. If the target is weak, so much the better, but even a strong loner will be targeted by a gang of bullies.

    If someone has made a bully mad, the bully wants to separate that person from his support group before getting revenge–or at least intimidate the support group into passivity. Seems like the anti-Obama bullies have been somewhat successful at doing just that.

  11. Art Perez says:

    The article states…

    “And with that, I bring you the news that the White House has blinked on moving the president’s speech date. I’m guessing the White House political team, if they’re true to form, is doing so because they have also made a calculation: that their “true base” — the middle — will give them credit for being the reasonable adults in the room, while letting Boehner look like the bully. And per the David Plouffe political philosophy, they probably calculate that they lose nothing with their true base — the middle — by giving in, while what they lose with the far left, which already hates Obama, is less important in the end because of the tiny relative size of the far left versus the overall electorate.”

    1. The President is “blinking” so much he needs to see an ophthalmologist for that condition.

    2. You criticize the Left for not standing by the Obama earlier, but then states (indirectly) the reason why the Left is critical of the Obama (and other sell-out Democrats).

    3. You don’t go into detail why the Left is critical of the Obama, but seems to be saying that the middle is his base. So, in essence, piss on the Left.

    All the more reason the Left needs a real Party. Those of you who agree with the gist of this article are agreeing that you are not a Liberal. Read the article. That is what is said.

    So if the middle is the Obama’s base, what does the middle want? Is it big enough to give him a win?

    Is being “reasonable” the only requirement for being President? Doesn’t the middle want him to bring home the bacon? Aren’t his supporters then being unreasonable if they want to keep someone in office that will not be able to do the job? If he can’t do the job (for whatever reason), shouldn’t he step aside and let a Democrat come up who can? Aren’t these “reasonable” suggestions (sarcasm)?

    The fact is that the majority of those who call themselves Liberal have tied themselves to an ineffective Party Leader. They fear losing for many reasons. But the ugly truth is that if the Obama is re-elected, a non-Liberal will be in the WH.

    Whether by pints or gallons, the poor and middle class will suffer.

    Vote Liberal, vote Green.

  12. Theo Wooster says:

    Okay, so a leftie has to wholeheartedly support President Obama. When he closed Guantanamo and brought the troops back from Iraq, I was impressed. When he put single payer into his healthcare bill, I knew he was unbeatable. When he tricked the GOP by giving them exactly what they wanted, over and over again. I knew that was change I could believe in. Is there anything that he absolutely stands for? Yay Obama.

  13. Charles says:

    @Art Perez

    I think the author is rightly saying that the so called liberal base doesn’t go to bat for a Democratic President like the conservative base does for a Republican.

    A politician’s base like them. Comments on FDR website are as hateful to Obama as Foxnation.com

    And it is astounding that the so called liberal base gets bend out of shape when they feel that their concerns aren’t being addressed by that Democratic President.

    What reason do you give them to put their neck out for the liberal “base”?

    When the Dems were trying to get HCR passed the Tea party town hall crazies rose up to try to prevent reform.

    Where was the liberal equivalent for that?

    They thought their jobs were done when Obama was elected and now they want to blame him for EVERYTHING.

    If the liberal “base” can’t honestly look at themselves and admit that they too haven’t done enough to bring about real progressive change, if the liberal “base” can’t honest admit their failings, then they’ll always lose out to the conservatives.

  14. @Art Perez:

    “Vote Liberal, vote Green.”

    No thank you. I didn’t become a naturalized citizen to waste my vote.

    And Obama is an “ineffectual party leader”? In what alternate universe are you looking into? Have you seen the long list of achievements of this Administration? Or have you heard the comments from real Presidential historians who have said that Obama equals what LBJ, Carter, and Clinton did in their Presidencies combined?

    Or are you sick and tired of hearing about Lilly Ledbetter?

    “Whether by pints or gallons, the poor and middle class will suffer.”

    Wow. Have you ever thought of writing fiction? Because that’s what will happen if we get a President Perry or Bachmann or Romney next year. I don’t see your fantasy candidate making it to 1 electoral vote. And under this Administration, there has been a great effort to help the poor and middle class. It is thanks to the obstruction of the GOP, NOT Obama’s “weakness” that more has not been done. If many of Obama’s critics on the Left would simply acknowledge this fact….nah, they won’t.

    Instead of caterwauling about the change of date, why not see the huge tree right in front of you–the President is going to lay out a jobs plan, something that the GOP does not have. It’s something the President has been talking about for months. The Left has been screaming for it, even though it has been discussed. And now, here it is, and yet….you miss the forest for the trees.

    Oh brother.

    @Charles:

    ” If the liberal “base” can’t honestly look at themselves and admit that they too haven’t done enough to bring about real progressive change, if the liberal “base” can’t honest admit their failings, then they’ll always lose out to the conservatives.”

    Which is absolutely spot on. The problem is…they can’t, or don’t do it. Whether it’s pride or fear, I don’t know.

    But Milt Shook, at his blog, has been putting out some great postings about this. You can read these two (but his site is darned good anyway, and a breath of fresh air):

    http://pleasecutthecrap.typepad.com/main/2011/06/it-was-true-then-its-true-now.html

    http://pleasecutthecrap.typepad.com/main/2011/06/politics-101-for-the-far-leftlessons-1-thru-9.html

  15. rikyrah says:

    great article

  16. Karoli says:

    LOL at the comment from Theo Wooster above. It’s always the old saws…blah de blah.

    Boo hoo! He didn’t close Guantanamo. Of course, there’s never any thought as to where those prisoners would go. Men without a country, no country wants them, and Congress defunded their transfers here along with their trials. And not just Republicans in Congress, but also Democrats. Even Bernie Sanders, that socialist independent guy, voted to keep it open.

    But of course, it’s all Obama’s fault.

    The rest of it is just a recipe for failure. Canada didn’t start out with national single payer. It was a province-by-province effort. It took actual work. But to the Woosters of the world, the President just failed to wave his magical Barackwand and make it happen.

    Most of all, Wooster’s comment proves the selfish cynicism of an entire group of people, who, when they do not receive what they want when they want it, decide to just cross their arms and throw darts from the sidelines.

    Yawn.

    Great post, Joy. I think you’ve put things in perspective well.

  17. bmull says:

    @karoli: Talk about old saws. It was Obama who built up closing Guantanamo into a big “first year” deal. And Sanders voted no because he didn’t want indefinite detention on U.S. soil. I’m sure you know all this.

  18. TrumpDog says:

    Well said, Karoli!

  19. Kerry Reid says:

    “All the more reason the Left needs a real Party.”

    So stop talking about it and start building it — precinct by precinct, town by town, voter by voter. What’s the matter? Too much like real work? Might take too much time for the Eric Cantors of the Pseudo-Left, who “want what they want when they want it?” (Took Canada about 30 years to evolve their healthcare plan into what it is today, by the way. Just on the off chance that pesky little things like “facts” and “reality” might matter to your Magical Thinking mindset, where presidents just WILL things into being whether Congress likes it or not.)

    Easier to play the do-nothing Parlor Pink and snipe about the wonderful leftie utopia that could come into being if only Some Magical Authoritarian Being would do the heavy lifting for you, isn’t it? What are you doing RIGHT NOW to get single-payer advocates and other progressives elected to Congress and at the state and local level? If the answer is “nothing,” then I rest my case.

    “And Sanders voted no because he didn’t want indefinite detention on U.S. soil.”

    So now we’ve got indefinite detention continuing in Gitmo. Bernie sure moved the goalposts/Overton Window with that bold stance, huh? Those prisoners in Gitmo surely appreciate his purity.

  20. Kerry Reid says:

    To clarify, first quote and response is to Art Perez, second is to Bmull.

    And yeah, Mr. Perez, who did the Greens put up in the presidential race in 2008? Cynthia McKinney. That inspires a lot of confidence, doesn’t it?

  21. bmull says:

    @Kerry Reid: If these people must be indefinitely detained without charge, at least life’s better on Guantanamo than in some supermax prison in the states.

  22. Kerry Reid says:

    @ bmull: And your proof for this assertion is…?

  23. bmull says:

    I’ve seen news footage. It’s not solitary. Don’t tell the RWNJs though–their heads will explode.

  24. Pingback: President Obama Deserves Nothing But Respect! | Angry Black Lady Chronicles

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