As the President and the Speaker gave competing pitches on prime time, they were aiming at different audiences.
Barack Obama was urging millions of indifferent Americans to pressure Congress against taking the economy over a cliff, while John Boehner was trying to keep a handful of his Tea Party mavericks in line for the same purpose.
The chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee had already announced opposition to the Speaker’s two-step plan to raise the debt ceiling, with some members vowing to vote against it on the grounds of ideological impurity.
The President himself slyly pointed up this conflict by praising “the kind of approach the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, was working on with me over the last several weeks.
“The only reason this balanced approach isn’t on its way to becoming law right now is because a significant number of Republicans in Congress are insisting on a different approach--a cuts-only approach-–an approach that doesn’t ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all. And because nothing is asked of those at the top of the income scale, such an approach would close the deficit only with more severe cuts to programs we all care about–-cuts that place a greater burden on working families.”
In this odd conflict, Boehner has Tea Party terriers tugging at his leg while he tries to wrestle Democrats for political advantage in averting a disaster for the economy.
Early reactions are promising for Obama as websites of conservative Republicans were crashing under heavy traffic after the President’s address and, to build on such momentum, Democrats are running attack ads against GOP Congress members in districts that the President won in 2008.
In this overheated atmosphere, selling sanity is not easy, but the White House is giving it a good try.
Update: Capitol Hill phones are ringing off the hook today, reports the Times’ Caucus, suggesting that Boehner may have goofed by “demanding--and receiving--time before the same audience to respond” to Obama’s appeal to the prime-time millions who watched their duel over the debt-ceiling.
GOP talking points seem to work better in sound bites than speeches, however brief, with context.