Obama and the Republicans: Two Contrasting Nights

09/09/2011 04:27 pm ET | Updated Nov 09, 2011

"You should pass it. I intend to take that message to every corner of the country."

In his big economic speech to Congress, President Barack Obama made plain his intention to take a page from Harry Truman's playbook and run against what he clearly sees as a reactionary, do-nothing Congress. Too bad for Obama he's been so late in identifying that particular problem.

The night before, Obama got a bit more of a boost as Texas Governor Rick Perry held up pretty well in his first debate.

Fortunately for Obama's cause, the Republicans have largely played their assigned parts, ignoring the evident post-partisanship of Obama's proposals, reacting with the hyper-partisan rejectionism that has generally marked their behavior since his inauguration.

Speaking before a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama urged prompt passage of his $450 billion American Jobs Act, the elements of which have previously received bipartisan support.

The White House pulled a low-ball play in advance of Obama's speech, strategically leaking that it was a proposed $300 billion jobs package. In fact, it's 50% bigger than that, nearly $450 billion, which is over half the size of his 2009 economic stimulus package. Obama's plan would cut the payroll tax for employess and employers, extend unemployment assistance, support state and local teachers and public safety personnel, and invest in infrastructure. Cleverly, all the ideas in it have been supported by substantial numbers of Republicans.

While it was clever of Obama to put together a package of proposals that have received major Republican backing in the past, all the better to demonstrate their nihilism going forward, the fact is that the plan, though more expansive than expected, still lacks needed scope.

Obama might better have painted two pictures for his audience: The totality of what should be done, and the bare minimum of what must be done, with the current plan as the latter.

Many on the left are praising the speech. Though it lacks a certain scope, even though the plan is bigger than expected.

Reaction in the center is positive, with the plan drawing praise for its agglomeration of previously bipartisan ideas.

Reaction on the right, of course, is mostly negative. But there were signs from some, including House Speaker John Boehner, that there could be some common ground.

They must be seeing the polls I see, in which their hyperpartisan approach plays badly. So some of the program, i.e., the big tax cuts portions, could well be in play.

As Obama readied his address to a joint session of Congress on the economy, a new Gallup Poll survey had Americans' evaluations of the state of their lives at a two-year low.

This tracks declining economic confidence which in turn tracks the ridiculously dysfunctional debate over raising the federal debt ceiling.

On Wednesday night at the Republicans' Reagan Library debate, Rick Perry's frontrunnership was evident to all, as he was the focus of his opponents and the moderators.

There were a number of questions I saw going into this: Can Perry hold up in a debate? Will Mitt Romney continue his above the fray/Rose Garden strategy that has seen him go from frontrunner to now rather distantly trailing runner-up? Will Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul find ways to move back into contention? And what of signs of life for the trailing candidates, such as Jon Huntsman?

The answers?

Yes, Perry can hold up in a debate.

Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney traded barbs on Social Security and other matters in Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library outside Los Angeles.

No, Romney dropped his Rose Garden strategy and tried to go at Perry, with some effect on Social Security, though less than he imagines in a Republican primary. (Romney is attacking him for the wrong thing. A lot of people do doubt that the system will be there for them. Perry comes off like a populist on that.)

No, Bachmann and Paul did not find a way to move back into contention. Bachmann has mostly melted away, evident from her lack of screen time last night.

Yes, some signs of life for Jon Huntsman and other trailers. Huntsman is the teacher's pet of the race; i.e., the favored media candidate saying obvious things that the establishment media knows.

Such as science is real.

Ronald Reagan, incidentally, as I've been pointing out for many years while the Republican Party moved ever rightward, would be a relative moderate in this crew.

But it is Perry who has adopted the Western Reagan iconography, Perry who best embodies the latest attempt for ultra-nationalist American revival.

And it is Perry who has the most clearcut path to the nomination. The new Tea Party champion is closer to being establishment than Romney can ever be to being TP. Romney's a classic country club corporate conservative. Perry by default is already closer to being establishment than Romney can ever become a TP type. Perry's the governor of a very big state, and a seemingly successful one, at least from a Republican standpoint. He ain't Bachmann.

He also represents the mythos of the present day party far better than Romney does. I watched him follow then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's back to the future through the center pitch to a 2007 California Republican Party convention in Palm Springs with a red meat refutation that had the delegates eating out of the palm of his hand.

The nomination is Perry's unless he screws up. Or is brought down by previous screw-ups or scandal. But that would have to be in the Fox News world, not the MSM world.

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