Oh, Grow Up
Editorial, New York Times, September 1, 2011
Whenever we think Washington couldn’t get more cynical or more craven, it proves us wrong. So we will resist the temptation to say it’s hard to imagine anything more base than the food fight over President Obama’s planned speech to Congress.
The contemptuous reaction from the House speaker, John Boehner, to the president’s request to address a joint session next Wednesday — the day Congress returns from its summer recess — was appalling. No matter how he feels about Mr. Obama personally or politically, there can be no excuse for his lack of respect for the office, to which he is second in the line of succession. And it was distressing to watch President Obama fail, once again, to stand up to an opposition that won’t brook the smallest compromise.
What made this even more appalling is that the president will be speaking on the country’s most pressing problem — the need to create jobs and stave off another destructive recession.
Mr. Obama’s request should have been routine. And The Times on Thursday quoted a White House official as saying it was: Obama aides consulted Boehner aides and then sent a formal request for a joint session on Wednesday. But Mr. Boehner said the date wasn’t convenient, a rebuff of the chief executive that the Senate historian’s office said seemed unprecedented.
It’s possible that the White House failed to seek Mr. Boehner’s back-room agreement before making its formal request. That’s hard to believe, even from an administration that is maladroit politically, to put it kindly.
But even if that were true. So what?
Mr. Boehner said there are votes scheduled on Wednesday evening, but they seem to be profoundly unimportant and, in any case, this is the same speaker who repeatedly postponed votes on whether to save the nation from default. What could possibly be so pressing this time?
It’s also possible that the White House failed to notice that the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have a debate on Wednesday, or deliberately tried to upstage it. If either is true, shame on the White House.
But, again, so what?
The Republican candidates did not seem to care. Some seemed eager to be up against Mr. Obama on television. And a presidential address on jobs and the faltering economy certainly trumps one of 20 planned debates among the contenders for the Republican nomination.
Mr. Obama’s people negotiated with Mr. Boehner’s people behind closed doors. When they emerged, the White House caved, to no one’s surprise. The speech will take place on Thursday.
One day won’t make a difference, but the political spectacle and the final result only served to further underscore the president’s weakness. Worse, the vital importance of the speech — and the need for Congress to take its full responsibility for creating jobs and reviving the economy — was upstaged by yet another Washington soap opera.