"With an endless parade of distraction, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball," Obama told a crowd at Knox College in Illinois this afternoon. "And I am here to say this needs to stop." Later in the speech, Obama vowed: "I will not allow gridlock, inaction or willful indifferences to get in our way."
That's a nice rhetorical flourish and there are, without doubt, some things that Obama can make happen in regards the economy via executive order. But, to make any major progress -- a grand bargain on debt and spending for example -- President Obama needs Congress, including the House that remained in GOP hands in 2012 despite his stronger-than-expected victory on the same day.
And, it seems incredibly unlikely that this speech, which Obama gave some version of for virtually the entirety of his 2012 campaign, will change any GOP minds. (Remember that President Obama won with 332 electoral votes in an election that was, at least in part, a referendum on his handling of the economy.)
Take Brendan Buck, press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner, who summed up the President's message thusly: "I’m going to give more speeches." Or Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer, who tweeted this assessment: "More jobs will be created thru the announcement of the royal baby than thru latest version of this speech."
To be clear, President Obama and his advisers were almost certainly under no illusion that a single speech -- or even lots of speeches -- could or would change the basic gridlocked reality that dominates political Washington these days.
Instead what the speech seemed designed to do is to re-state the arguments that worked during the campaign for Obama in hopes of framing the coming government shutdown and debt ceiling debates on friendly political ground for the President and Congressional Democrats. He did so more pointedly than he had in the past and with more urgency as well, pledging to spend the next several weeks touring the country -- he will stop in Florida and Missouri later this week -- making the case.
The Obama speech then wasn't really about trying to ensure any near-term forward movement. Instead it was about positioning -- both for the policy fights to come this fall and for the midterm elections next November.
In the near term, all sides know it won't change a thing. Which may be as depressing a statement on how Washington works as any we've heard in a while.