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Capitol Idea: Obama’s Health Care Speech Won’t Get His Mojo Back

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This coming Wednesday, September 9th, President Obama may give a good, even a great, speech  to try to save his health care reform proposals. But it won't give him back his political mojo.

Obama plans to address a joint session of Congress in what's being billed as a major speech on his signature issue of health care reform. His oratory that night may well be what saves his reform proposals from falling into a legislative abyss. It may arrest what's been weeks of freefall in the opinion polls, it may even buy him a couple or three percentage points in improved approval in those polls.  What it won't do is carry Obama back to the mountaintop he once enjoyed.

After weeks of watching Obama brought low by hundreds of angry reform protesters attacking him ad nauseum at town hall meetings nationwide, it might be easy to forget the lofty position our 44th president occupied just a short while ago.

Built on a campaign of inspiring, lyrical rhetoric, and forged from the many daunting challenges the young president faced as soon as he was sworn in, Obama once enjoyed public approval that was the envy of Washington. He seemed to be made of political Kevlar.

Obama very much needs to get that magic back and reconnect with the American people on that deeper level if his presidency ultimately is to succeed.

But a policy speech that will be about "what our administration wants to happen with regard to health care, and what we are going to push for, specifically," in the words of Vice President Joe Biden, is not what's going to make that happen.  Health care reform has become too politicized, and the air around it too acrimonious. for even the most poetic speech to do more than perhaps enact the legislation. But anything more transformative is out of the question.

Then, if Obama can't get his mojo back with a speech and venue nearing the grandiosity of a full-blown State of the Union, what will?  I don't know, nobody does — because that thing hasn't happened yet. But, inevitably, a circumstance will arise in which the entire nation looks to the president, and only the president, to respond.

Let's just look at recent history:

In the summer of 2001, George W. Bush wasn't faltering perhaps as badly as Obama is today, but don't forget that back then, he was seen as muddling along at best. Bush was coming under criticism for having let Senator Jim Jeffords, of his own party, turn away and hand control of the Senate to Democrats for the first time in years.

Then came September 11, the twin towers fell, and the whole nation turned to Bush as one. At the time, Bush seemed to rise to the occasion, was rewarded with record-high approval ratings — and essentially was given a do-over for his presidency. By contrast, Bush faced a similar test four years later, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In that instance, his leadership was found to be lacking, and that marked the beginning of the end of the American people believing Bush ever could be a successful president.

A decade earlier, Bill Clinton was even more very much in the place Obama finds himself in today. Clinton's own health care initiative had failed, and in 1995, the president was still reeling from the GOP takeover of Congress. Clinton actually had to argue publicly that the Constitution gave him relevance as president in the face of Newt Gingrich and the Republicans, who seemed to be the ones running the place.

Not long after that, though, extremists bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people in what at the time was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Americans in mourning sought solace not from Gingrich or Congress, but from the occupant of the Oval Office.

Clinton rose to the occasion, and the comfort he provided the nation gave him the opportunity for Americans to see Clinton anew. Clinton's performance in the days and weeks following the bombing of the Murrah Building won him wide praise, initiating the reconnection between Clinton and the nation. It gave a president who once appeared to be destined to be another one-termer a fresh start, sent him on to a resounding re-election, and poll numbers that remained highly positive, even in the darkest days of impeachment.

To be clear, it needn't be another terrorist attack that brings Obama and the nation back together. I certainly am not hoping for such an event to happen again.  I don't know what it will be, or when it will be, for that matter. But what I am certain of is that something will happen that once again focuses the eyes and hearts of a nation on the man whom they elected as their leader, to offer advice, guidance and comfort.

When it comes, though, Obama need only rise to the occasion.

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About Scott Nance

  • Mike P.

    I find it very unusual that you devote over 1/2 of your article to a potential future horrific event that would help elevate Obama. This is very suspect. Are you hoping for something to happen? It sure seems like it for the significant amount of time you spent on that theme. You don’t mention it in passing, but devote more than 1/2 of your writing to it. Why????

  • http://www.joannehuspek.wordpress.com Joanne Huspek

    I don’t think it is unreasonable to wonder how the man will react in the face of crisis. Remember, this is an administration who loves a good crisis for the opportunities it brings.

    Obama is a great wordsmith as witnessed by his books, but I find that without the teleprompter, he loses my attention. In my opinion, he has oversaturated the media which dilutes the message.

    I’ll listen. Hopefully there will be something new to add.

  • Mark

    I suspect that a terrorist attack at this time would do more to rend this country than to unify it behind Obama. He might then ‘be forced’ to regain his mojo through totalitarian force.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I hear Obama’s actually put a bit of his mojo in the H1N1 vaccine. Beware!

  • Mark

    laugh out loud though quietly

  • charlie

    How convenient that the author of this article ignores what else happened in the summer of 2001 – the Bush White House received but dismissed the August 6 memo about Bin Laden preparing to attack the United States.

    Also Joanne, what do you mean buy the Obama administration “loves a good crisis”? You must be taking the right-wing interpretation of a Rahm Emanuel quote. Why don’t you provide for us his full quote and context about dealing with crisis? And look, I’m not much of a fan of his now but will defend what he said back in January – but I’m not doing your homework for you.

    And finally, it’s such bullsh*t that Obama can’t speak right without a teleprompter. Hello? Do you watch (or just completely ignore) his townhalls, media interviews and other public appearances? He is very well spoken and anyone who doesn’t think so is a partisan and conveniently forgets how Bush butchered the English language for years.

  • charlie

    Correction: Rahm made the “crisis” statement in November, not January.

  • Clavos

    According to the NYT:

    “Just after Barack Obama’s election in November, Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, made this memorable statement to an interviewer: ‘You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.'”

  • charlie

    Hey Clavos: post a link to the entire NYT story.

  • Charlie

    You people are so chicken-bleep to actually post the context of Rahm Emanuel’s quotes so I’m forced to do it for you now.

    Here it is: “Restating Mr. Obama’s points, Mr. Emanuel said the Bush administration should accelerate $25 billion in federal loans provided by a recent law to help automakers and suppliers retool to build more energy-efficient vehicles. He said that the Bush administration had the power to do more and that Mr. Obama’s economic team, once chosen, would devise options for helping the industry in ways that had the added benefit of being “part of an energy policy, going forward, where America is less dependent on foreign oil.”

    The idea of turning the auto industry’s crisis into a chance to enact changes with energy and environmental benefits is one that Mr. Emanuel has promoted in Congress. But he said that Mr. Obama had yet to settle on his proposals or whether he would announce them before he was sworn in.

    “Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste,” Mr. Emanuel said in an interview on Sunday. “They are opportunities to do big things.”

    Mr. Podesta, who for months has been preparing for the transition, said in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” that Mr. Obama was considering Democrats, Republicans and independents for key cabinet positions. While previous presidents have not announced such appointments until December, Mr. Podesta suggested that officials with responsibility for the economy, national security, health care and energy portfolios could be named sooner.”

  • zingzing

    wow. context is everything. that was some clever editing by certain someones up there. what next? it’s a disturbing practice.