Saturday, September 03, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

A year from now, Labor Day Weekend will signify the unofficial start of the final general election push. Things on the political front are at least slightly quieter than they will be next September, but a very eventful week lies ahead (or is it lays ahead, current and former English majors?)

With Barack Obama's most recent vacation now over, he is back in Washington and will be following through on his intention to present his jobs program to the nation. Perhaps surprisingly, he wants to deliver a speech before a Joint Session of Congress, which is very rarely done for none State of the Union Addresses. Typically, a President formally requests permission from the Speaker of the House to visit Capitol Hill, and that request is always granted. This week though, saw a huge brouhaha develop over Obama's request to speak during prime time this coming Wednesday evening.

While not specifically denying the request, Speaker John Boehner sent the President a letter in return asking him to pick a different night due to short notice. The House will just be coming back into Wednesday and Boehner cited the time it would take for security measures to secure the chamber. What was left unsaid is the fact that for months, a Republican Presidential Debate, has been scheduled to occur at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California and to be broadcast live on MSNBC (which many Republicans may find difficult to actually locate on their televisions.)

Allies of the President took huge offense to Boehner's request and a story late this week reported that the White House was very angry by the move. Nonetheless, Obama decided to instead speak Thursday night, in a move that is being seen as "caving in." However, Thursday night is the kickoff for the NFL season, with a game scheduled for NBC. Therefore, the White House really had no option to schedule a speech to finish before kickoff. Thus, the Commander in Chief will be taking the podium at a very non optimal prime time spot for viewers across the nation. For example, it will take place on the west coast at a time when most people (that is those who still have jobs) will still be at work.

If I may editorialize a bit here, this has been a tremendously embarrassing episode for Obama and his team and I am quite glad that Speaker Boehner was prepared to stand firm and prevent what has to be seen as a nakedly political ploy to pre-empt the GOP debate, which is sure to feature much criticism of Obama. Many on the right, think that Obama just will basically be delivering a campaign speech anyway, and the request to speak to Congress should have flatly been denied. I will not go that far. I think if a President asks to speak, it should be granted, but it was in extremely bad form for Obama to ask for the time he did, and I think even his supporters will have a hard time claiming this was all just coincidental.

Political watchers can debate further whether Boehner actually did Obama a favor, both by allowing him to not have to compete with a debate, which highly attuned voters might find more interesting, and for not coming across as being un-Presidential by trying to talk over his would be opponents. While the White House may have thought they could have gained a political advantage by looking "larger" than the more than half-dozen Republicans who will debating in California, it was a move that backfired.

Now though, the debate and the speech will be given on back to back nights and each will get their own spotlight in the news cycle. I do think though that Obama's jobs message will receive significantly lower ratings than it would on another week, because of the time it will be given, due to the NFL considerations. Once again, while "regular" Americans may not care much about the inside baseball (or football) aspects of all this, it does signify some dysfunction and bad political posturing from the team that is trying to win four more years.

As for the much awaited speech itself, it will be interesting to see if there is anything specific or new in it, or if instead Obama will just use the occasion to frame the issue of widespread unemployment in a way that will seek to blame Republicans during the election year. The Administration now claims that unemployment will remain over nine percent by the 2012 election, and on Friday, the Labor Department report was even worse than expected. It showed that for the first time in over 60 years, not a single net job was created in America.

Of course, this all means that candidates who will be debating in front of a giant Air Force One replica at the Reagan Library may wind up becoming far more familiar with the actual jet. The debate should be fascinating to watch as Rick Perry, who many now consider to be the GOP frontrunner, will be making his national debut. If the Texas Governor does well, his support should solidify. If he somehow fails to live up to the expectations that his casual supporters might have of him, his standing may start to fall quickly, along with his lead in national polls and in some of the early states. Mitt Romney, who was seen as the front-runner in previous debates may now find himself in a position to want to play as much offense as defense. Michele Bachmann, whose political fortunes after her Iowa Straw poll win last month have gone south, may also find herself needing to be very aggressive in going after Perry.

It will be the exchanges between Perry and Romney that will make the most headlines though, as it looks more and more like they will be headed for a long two man race for the nomination. Perry will likely go after Romney for his health care plan as Governor of Massachusetts, while Romney can be expected to criticize Perry's record on illegal immigration, in a way that may give conservatives much pause about the border state Governor. Additionally, the theme the Romney campaign may try to push is that of Perry being a career politician who has no experience in the private sector, while Romney, besides being Governor, spent most of his adult life in the private sector and creating jobs in it. Thus far, the former Massachusetts Governor, who I feel is incredibly more electable than Perry, and easily the best candidate we can offer, has played things pretty low key, without much in the way of criticism of his Republican opponents. Come Wednesday night, that will probably change.

One Republican who will not be taking the stage on Wednesday will be Sarah Palin. For weeks, speculation has been rampant, with many now saying they think she is more likely to run for President after all. I continue to predict she will not, but she did address a large Tea Party gathering in Iowa today with a trip to New Hampshire scheduled for the upcoming week.

As for today, she did not announce her candidacy or endorse Perry, or refer to any Republican candidate by name, but she did in effect, sound more like someone who might become one herself. The speech was heavy on conservative populism, and interestingly enough, seemed to take some veiled shots at Perry in regards to what Palin referred to as "crony capitalism." She also even got a slight dig in at John McCain over his use of the term "hobbits" in some sort of reference he made to the Tea Party. That was interesting as well, since it goes without saying that McCain is the person responsible for the fact that Palin was able to deliver a different speech before a much larger audience, three years ago today in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Whether she runs or not, Palin is certainly a political force in the Republican Party, and while she would be unlikely to be nominated if she does succumb to the temptation to run, one person who is probably hoping very hard that she does not, is James Richard Perry of Texas.