Bad Advice from Tomasky

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen worse advice than that which Michael Tomasky gives the president for his speech tonight:

If he comes out with the same passive posture, pleadingly saying to Republicans that we should all set aside our differences for the good of the American people and move forward in the spirit of compromise, he’ll have a disaster on his hands. The Republicans will know they can roll him again. He’s been talking that talk for three years. It’s gotten him to 38 percent approval and zero Republican votes in Congress on big measures.

The effect will be far more dramatic on his fellow Democrats. This tends to be overlooked. We think about how a president’s words are heard by the opposition more than we do about how his own party receives them. But if Democrats have to sit through yet another monologue in which Obama sounds like a fourth grader asking the sixth graders to play nice—well, they’ll go on the cable nets and say what they consider it their duty to say, but they are going to leave that chamber an awfully dispirited bunch.

Instead, Obama needs to say something like: “Now, to my Republican friends. I have made repeated calls for bipartisanship. You have refused to respond in kind, repeatedly. Your Senate leader has said that the most important item on his agenda is not getting the American people jobs, but making sure I lose mine. So far this year, I’ve met you more than halfway on the budget and the debt deal. I have shown my good faith. You haven’t shown yours. I’ve tried to do it the nice way. You keep wanting to fight. So now, if it’s a fight you want, it’s a fight you’ll get. Not for me, or for my job, but for the American people, for the unemployed and the underemployed and everybody whose lives are made tougher by this economy. That’s a fight I’m thrilled to have, because I am on their side, and you people are on the side of the top 2 percent.”

That’s right up there with “I understand there’s a great camping spot there at Little Big Horn” and “Surely no one will notice if we break into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel”.

It would be fine for a partisan political rally but not for a joint session of Congress. The president is a guest at the Capitol, not the proprietor. It’s not as though the Republicans in Congress have no recourse. They could do exactly the same thing that you’d do if a dinner guest took advantage of your hospitality to lambast you. You wouldn’t invite him or her back. The Congress is under no obligation to invite the president to address its membership in joint session at the Capitol.

For a century the State of the Union message was sent by the president to the Congress as a written report. He has neither an obligation nor a right to address the Congress in joint session and I believe he would be prudent to exercise decorum. IMO he went over the line when he scolded the members of the Supreme Court during his 2010 State of the Union address and abusing the Congress’s hospitality a second time would constitute a pattern of behavior.

Remember, too, that “high crimes and misdemeanors” are whatever the House of Representatives says they are and the House works by simple majority. I’m neither advocating nor predicting that the president could face impeachment for rudeness but I think it’s something to bear in mind. Even if the Senate were to dismiss the case as I think it overwhelmingly likely it would still constitute an asterisk in the record book.

5 comments… add one
  • Well, more than that, the problem with Tomasky’s advice is that it rests on the assumption that all the President has to do is give the right speech and everything will be better. Or, as Cheryl Rofer recently put it:

    Why it is that when someone with a gun and explosives thinks that a single act will fix everything, he’s crazy, but when the pundits think that the President can fix everything with a single speech, they’re published and referred to as Serious People?

  • I don’t think that Tomasky is thinking about solving problems other than political ones, i.e. the next election.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Its interesting that this type of policy address before a joint session is quite unique and unprecedented before Woodrow Wilson and Wilson might even have almost half of all such addresses. Here’s Wilson’s joint sessions during his first two years:

    Apr. 8, 1913 …….. Tariff message
    June 23, 1913 …… Currency and bank reform message
    Aug. 27, 1913 …… Mexican affairs message
    Dec. 2, 1913 …….. Annual Message
    Jan. 20, 1914 …….Trusts message
    Mar. 5, 1914 …….. Panama Canal tolls
    Apr. 20, 1914 …… Mexico message
    Sept. 4, 1914 …….War tax message
    Dec. 8, 1914 …….. Annual Message

    Including the Annual Message, that’s an average of a message every 2 to 3 months. I really wonder how Congress received such constant lectures, particularly given the change from the norm? Were they supportive? Did they show up? Were they effective?

  • As I’ve said before people tend to do what they’re trained to do. Academics lecture.

  • Icepick Link

    You only think I guessed wrong! That’s what’s so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line”! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha…

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