This is one of the biggest gambles of Barack Obama’s presidency. No one made him seek a joint session of Congress to lay out his plans for getting the economy moving and Americans back to work. Having big-footed his way into the House of Representatives to appear before a national TV audience, Obama now has to deliver; that entails more than a speech with soaring rhetoric.
His message to spur job growth must capture the imagination of his supporters to the extent that they come away from the evening believing that the president has produced a plan worth fighting for, and that he intends to go to all out to win. If Obama fails on both scores, he will have wasted the nation’s time. Worse still, he will have squandered what’s left of an already weakened presidency.
Everybody knows that tonight Obama enters a chamber of Congress where the majority of its members want him gone. Almost half of the United States Senate feels the same way. Republican leaders made it known early in his presidency that their goal was to deny Obama a second term. Obama, at this stage, has no reason to cry foul. In my old neighborhood, we used to say, “Fair warning is fair play.” He can’t say he wasn’t warned, and by the opposition early in the game.
So the question lurking in the minds of many people tuning in tonight, including his supporters, is: How will Obama get his jobs plan through a Republican-controlled House and a Senate heavily influenced by the GOP senators, given the way they had their way with him in the recent debt-ceiling, budget cuts debate?
Obama bears a heavy burden tonight: to show that he knows how to boost the economy and produce jobs, that he has the political skills and intestinal fortitude to make it happen, and why the nation, down on him for his handling of the economy, should follow his lead.
A tall order, indeed.