PresidentObama has proposed a joint session of Congress on September 7, 2011 at 8 p.m.as the forum for his next speech. Thesubject matter, allegedly, will be his proposals for stimulating the economyand accelerating job growth.
Isthis a sincere attempt to deal with a national problem in a bipartisan way? Oris it a blatant attempt to establish a campaign 2012 strategy for Obama thathopes to be a successful carbon copy of Harry Truman's campaign of 1948 when hedefeated Tom Dewey by, essentially, campaigning against the "do-nothing" RepublicanCongress?
Truman'spopularity was above 90 percent in the early 1940s, but the problems he hadafter the end of World War Two caused it to plunge to about 38 percent in1948. Truman was an unpopular president inthat election year.
Hewanted the nomination of his party but he'd be lucky to get it. He had an impressive war record, (which wasdimming) and an engaging personality going for him, but he couldn't brag abouta good economy (unemployment was rising), and the antics of well known Democraticallies left him vulnerable to charges that he was "weak on communism."
He hadto fight for the nomination. Feeding onthat doubt, two men, Strom Thurmond and Henry Wallace, walked away from theDemocratic Party in protest, promising to run against Truman in the election (they did).
SoTruman won his nomination, but at a high cost, and he badly needed a strategythat would take the spotlight away from him, and the economy, and at the sametime redirect it to a weak spot in his opponent's armor. Attacking Dewey directly wasn't the answer --he was squeaky clean. So they turnedtheir eyes to the Congress
Republicansin 1946 won control of both houses of Congress. To turn this administrative disadvantage into an electoral advantageTruman, once he had the nomination, called Congress into a special session and presenteda list of his desired legislation. Heknew his plan would be rejected. Butmost of his proposals, even though they didn't address fundamental problems athand, were attractive to voters - and he got Republicans to reject them.
AndTruman, gleefully, for the balance of the campaign, made it known, from whistlestop to whistle stop, that the problems in the nation could be directly blamedon the "do-nothing" Congress that wouldn't work with him. And - he almost accidentally reminded voters- things would get even worse if that stuffed shirt from New York became president of the United States.
Theparallels between Truman in 1948 and Obama in 2011 are vivid. And how Obama is beginning to take lessonsfrom the Missourian is becoming plainer every day.
· In 2010,Republicans won the House and considerably increased their strength in theSenate. Obama's days of veto-proof- rulewere over. Like it or not, ever since hehas had to contend with Republicans, and their ideas for a smaller government. Truman had the same problem.
Evenmore than Truman, Obama needs a scapegoat, someone (anyone) to blame for thecondition of the nation, economically, internationally and financially.
PresidentBush, a favorite target for more than two years, will continue to be useful to(and used by) Obama - but blaming Bush is wearing thin.
TheRepublican nominee can't be demonized yet (as he/she will be) because he/sheisn't known yet. But something must befound to take the heat away from Obama - he can't wait (as long as Truman didto make his play) to set up the only campaign strategy that is currentlyavailable to him.
Hemust demonize Congress, especially the House, where Republicans rule.
Thisexplains Obama's call for a special session of Congress on the same night, andat the same time, as the Republican primary debate in California. In this way,if Republicans agree to the special session, he will monopolize television timeand reduce the positive impact of the debate. More importantly, he'll present ideas that, relative to the nation's currentproblems will be trivial. But if Republicansdisdain them, and if they do not offer challenging proposals, their dismissiveaction will provide the basis for Obama's future campaign against the"do-nothing" Congress that obstructs him. And, the rhetoric will continue, if a Republican is elected president,things will get even worse.
Noattempt by any politician from either party should be taken seriously of itdoesn't first deal with unaffordable social programs that have destroyed thefederal budget for more than a half-century. Obama never deals with that problem in any specificity because it'spolitically toxic - a brew he refuses to face. Republicans (bravely or foolishly) did so, and it could cost them votesif Obama doesn't join them.
Hewill not join with Republicans next week, nor is he likely to do so in theforeseeable future. Therefore, his congressionaladdress will be nothing more than another edition of Obama-theater.
Robert Kelly, author of several books on baseball and history/politics,is also a freelance, award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in many Massachusetts newspapers. His latest book, Neck and Neck to the White House, is available atAmazon and the better bookstores. His e-mail address is [email protected]