President Obama surprised a lot of people — some pleasantly, and some not — with his kick-ass speech to the joint session of Congress to present the American Jobs Act last night. He started off by telling Congress that the people outside Washington don’t care about the internal squabbles inside the Beltway and the childish back-and-forth between the parties; they are hurting for work and want them to get their asses in gear and get something done. The first thing he told them was to pass the bill.
You can read the particulars about the proposal here (and the transcript here), but what everyone will be talking about wasn’t what’s in the bill but how the president presented it: forceful, in plain language (MSNBC’s Chuck Todd marveled at how the president was able to talk about infrastructure without using the word itself), and clearly the kick-off to the 2012 re-election campaign for the president.
Here’s what’s going to happen next. The talking heads establishment will marvel at the president’s bold new ideas — which have been kicking around since the first stimulus — and the Republicans will come up with as many excuses as they can to not pass any of it. Some will whimper about their hurt fe-fe’s because the president wasn’t all nice and cozy, so there. The president will now go out on the stump — including districts where his biggest opponents, like Rep. Eric Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner, live — and open a can of Whupass on them for not passing the bill. Game on.
It will take some very creative work on behalf of the Republicans to explain exactly why they won’t pass it: it will cost too much, it’s class warfare, there’s no ponies, blah blah blah. This despite the fact that the majority of the people who are looking for a job — and even those who aren’t — don’t give a flying rat’s ass about how much it costs. We’ve already been down the road to deficit reduction and it hasn’t done squat about getting them work. Now they have to come up with a reason to tell the unemployed why they’re standing in their way without making it sound like they’re doing it just because they don’t like President Obama.
Watching House Speaker John Boehner over the president’s shoulder last night was a great tell for the reaction from the GOP. At times it looked like the color drained from his face; he went from orange to just plain pink. His body language indicated that he realized — too late! — that making the president move his speech to Thursday night was a huge mistake. If the president had spoken at the same time Rick Perry was rewriting history, he would have been just another candidate. But the president going solo in front of Congress gave him the floor and the news cycle for the rest of the week. In theatre terms, President Obama upstaged the rest of the field with a boffo performance.
The only sobering thing is that, as Paul Krugman notes, very little of what the president proposed will pass. (David Brooks actually liked the speech and the proposals. Whoops.) After all, doing so would give the president a huge boost in his re-election bid, and the Republicans really don’t care about putting people to work or restoring the economy if it means losing an election.