Why wasn’t Obama allowed to speak?


O’Donnell didn’t give you a thrill: Why didn’t Obama get to speak to the Congress last Wednesday night? Why did he have to delay his years-too-late address until Thursday night?

Last night, Rachel Maddow, back from break, sent a thrill up liberal legs. She gave a resentment-driven account of some very bad Republican conduct:
MADDOW (9/12/11): A few weeks ago, the White House said the president wanted to give a major address on unemployment and turning the economy around. The president wrote to Congress saying he would like to deliver that address on Wednesday night, last Wednesday, to a joint session of Congress. That’s what a big deal this was—joint session of Congress. Whoa!

Joint session of Congress, that is a big deal. That’s State of the Union big. That is starting-a-war big.

For a president to request a joint session of Congress is a very big deal. For the Congress to say no to that request is an even bigger deal—that is unheard of. In response to President Obama’s request to address a joint session of Congress last Wednesday, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner did something that has never been done before in the history of our nation. He said no. He said it would be inconvenient for the House because he said there were votes scheduled in the House for Wednesday night, for last Wednesday night when the president wanted to do his speech.

Mr. Boehner said there would not be enough time after those important House votes to prepare for the president to come speak.

So John Boehner said, "No, Mr. President, I will not convene a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. Why don’t you pick a different day?"

This is unprecedented. No speaker, no Congress has ever said that to any president in U.S. history. President Obama did move his speech. He moved it to a different day.
Rachel was helping us fire our resentment. As she continued, she noted that those votes in the House last Wednesday night were extremely trivial—that this had been a phony excuse. As she finished, she let us know that four Republican members didn’t attend the speech because they’re “from the South.”

Rachel gave a pleasing account of the GOP’s ugly conduct. By way of contrast, consider what Lawrence O’Donnell told us several weeks ago, when this minor flap first occurred.

O’Donnell mentioned something our darling Rachel left out of her report last night. He mentioned the fact that Obama wanted to speak on the same night as a GOP debate! As she often does, Darling Rachel left that out, presumably so we could enjoy our full and complete tribal fury.

This is what O’Donnell said on the day this flap blew up. White House pool boy Richard Wolffe was there to recite key scripts, just as Maddow did:
O’DONNELL (8/31/11): Richard, is this the night where I have to begin this program by saying Rush Limbaugh is right, the president was trying to upstage the Republican debate? Is there any real working theory to the contrary?

WOLFFE: No, you don’t have to say that Rush Limbaugh is right. This is, obviously, a campaign season, and the next day with the football game, and who really cares anyway? You can schedule both on the same day, doesn’t have to be the same time. What’s curious about this is not just the back and the forth, because I think people who don’t tune into politics will think they are a bunch of squabbling school kids.

The interesting question is: What is it about the president that has ripped away the veneer the respect that normally accompanies the office of the president? Why do the Republicans think this president is unpresidential and shouldn’t dare request this kind of thing? It strikes me that it could be the economic times, it could be he won so big in 2008, or it could be, let's face it, the color of his skin.

This is an extraordinary reaction to a normal sequence of events when the economy is in trouble and we’re entering a political season. And the reaction is out of all proportion.

O'DONNELL: John, how would Democrats react if we had a Republican incumbent president who had already announced his reelection campaign and the campaign was well underway and being funded, as this one is, and he wanted to give a speech, which would be easily seen as both a campaign speech and a governing speech, and wanted to do so at exactly the same time that the Democrats would have been meeting to have a presidential primary debate in which presumably those Democrats would be given a primetime opportunity to be criticizing that Republican president.

How would Democrats have reacted if we just reversed this whole thing?
The pool boy played the same race card, just as Rachel would do two weeks later. But O’Donnell’s question answers itself:

How would liberals have reacted if we just reversed this whole thing? How would liberals have reacted in 2003 or 2004 if President Bush tried to schedule a speech to Congress during a Democratic debate?

Duh. We liberals would have screamed and yelled about the bad man’s bad behavior. But being tribal means never having to see the world from the other side. Speaking with O’Donnell that night, the White House pool boy offered you race. Darling Rachel has now made the same play.

O’Donnell stated the blindingly obvious. Here’s where he ended up:
O’DONNELL: John, I got to think that the White House saw it as a win either way. Either Boehner says yes and we semi-humiliate him with the Rush Limbaugh crowd and the president gets to completely upstage the Republican debate. Or Boehner says, no, in what becomes this unprecedented public response to the president wanting to do a joint session address and the White House wins again because the unreasonable Republican once again looks like an unreasonable Republican.

HEILEMANN: Certainly, it would be consistent with the White House's theory of the case that we've seen over the course of the past--really, the whole Obama first term, but especially since the midterms where the White House sought to elevate President Obama and make him look like the reasonable, responsible, adult in the room. They could portray Boehner's response as kind of petulant and childish and certainly, they will do that. There's no doubt that, as Richard is representing, he's representing a real feeling among people in the Democratic base that are very upset.
Last night, Rachel helped us get even more upset. At long last, can’t we tell the truth? We liberals are now very dumb and tribal. We are the tea party now!


  1. O'Donnell was on point here. I'm fascinated at how well Obama's speech appears to have played, at least with Congressional Democrats and with some sectors of the public. I'm not as enthusiastic about the policies in it or its substance (more tax cuts, especially in the payroll tax, ugh!), but the "tone" was impressive, and it clearly threw the Republicans off. I have been noting how carefully the GOP leadership in the House in particular has trodden since the speech. The White House's startling announcement (for them) on how it will pay for the new jobs bill also appears to have thrown the GOP an eephus pitch. Now Obama has got to keep up his sales and marketing of the bill, and go to every swing state, as well as ones where his support is stronger, like Massachusetts and California. He has got to push for this bill like his life depends on it. Certainly the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans do. The Census's figures on the rise in poverty just from 2009 to 2010, which is to say, since the "recovery," testifies to this.

  2. The actual proposals are 2nd rate: cutting in to the SS Trust Fund; continuing the commitment to deficit cutting instead of revenue raising. It looks more like his fraudulent 2008 campaign then a real proposal.

    It's a job program for him.

  3. My first reaction to the Obama speech on Wed, the same day as the debates, was 'that is just rude'. It was. It reminded me of Sarah Palin stagine her arrival in Iowa on the same day as Perry's announcement press conference.

    Also - why won't blogger remember me? I have to fill in the profile screen every time. Okay if you don't know the why, but that it happens may be of interest to you.