When most Presidents speak to a joint session of Congress, it is in response to a personal tragedy (as was Reagan’s speech in 1981 after he recovered from being shot), a national crisis (as was George W. Bush’s September 20, 2001 speech to the attacks of 9/11), or to deliver the State of the Union address.
It seems today the only tragedy for Obama is personal, the precipitous drop in his poll numbers, the only crisis the loss of popular support for his legislative initiatives. The current state of the union (while not calling for a constitutionally mandated address) is economic unease and increased political polarization with Americans growing increasingly upset about the Democrats’ statist solutions to pressing social, economic and political problems.
In part, the President is making this speech to address these issues, and Byron York doubts Obama will succeed:
. . . when a president makes such a rare request, he’s sending a clear message that there is an emergency, or at least an urgent issue, that must be addressed in the most solemn national forum. . . . Is Obamacare such an issue? Hardly. So it will be the president’s job to convince the public that the need to pass a national health care bill is so urgent that it ranks alongside war and other national emergencies.
It can’t be done. No matter what Obama says on Wednesday, the audience will see the speech for what it is: A president speaking not as the nation’s leader in time of crisis but rather as a salesman pushing a troubled product.
Sales jobs are the least successful joint addresses. Clinton’s didn’t work. And it hasn’t been pointed out very often, but the president in the last half-century who used the joint session format the most was the one who got the least done: Jimmy Carter.
Read the whole thing. Simply put, no matter how polished is the President’s performance tonight, it’s the ideas he espouses which have caused the current crisis (his crumbling public image). Perhaps, if he announced tonight that he was shifting his strategy to focus on the economy or launching a health care reform do-over, he might find himself standing on more solid political ground.
(It will be interesting to see if he attaches himself to any of the current reforms pending before Congress. Heretofore, he has not supported any the plans.)
In the end, all the President is doing is trying to score a political win for the sake of the trophy, even if it means further polarizing the nation and overhauling a health care system which needs responsible reform but not a major makeover.