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.