President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, the two men at the center of the ongoing debate over whether to raise the debt limit, both addressed the country on the topic tonight. And that’s where the similarities between the two speeches ended.
Obama was all cool reason — making a case for why passing the debt ceiling is necessary to keep the economy on firm footing and quoting the likes of Ronald Reagan and Thomas Jefferson to argue that compromise is part of being American.
Boehner was all white hot passion — blasting President Obama for his “business as usual” approach to governing in Washington and repeatedly insisting that it was the president not the Congress who was standing in the way of debt limit deal.
The wildly variant tones from the two men make clear not only the gap that remains between the two sides with just eight days remaining before the country defaults on its loans but also the differing constituencies at whom the speeches were aimed.
Obama was aiming at the political middle — unaffiliated and independent voters who are seen as the most critical voting bloc heading into 2012. Those voters prize compromise and bipartisanship above any single issue and Obama repeatedly drove that message home.
“The American people may have voted for divided government but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government,” he said at one point. At another he said that “neither party was blameless”for the debt and that fact meant that “both parties have a responsibility to solve” it.
While Obama did engage in a bit of blame-laying — he said that a faction of House Republicans were blocking a deal — he kept that criticism in broad terms. He did not go after Boehner and, in fact, praised the Speaker for the work the two men had done over the past few months on the issue.
After what amounted to an appeal to our better angels by Obama, Boehner’s decision to come out swinging against the president was striking.
Boehner seemed heavily focused on showing his party — particularly those in the tea party wing of the GOP conference — that he will not simply cut a deal for the sake of cutting a deal.
“The sad truth is that the president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today,” said Boehner. “That is just not going to happen.”
Boehner’s defiance will likely be the story of the night as it overshadowed the “cooler heads will prevail” tone that Obama was aiming for in his own speech.
While the two mens’ tones was miles apart tonight, it’s not clear whether this was simply a case of public political posturing by the two most high profile leaders of their respective parties or an accurate reflection of the gulf that remains between the two sides.
That question is likely to get answered over the next 48 to 72 hours as both parties look for a way to say “yes” to a deal that, as of tonight, still appears elusive.
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