Opinion: What President Obama will say tonight and why

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In the interests of obvious transparency, among the items released Monday evening by the White House Press Office were two announcements.

One, distributed at 8:13 p.m. Eastern time, was headed: ‘Meeting with Democratic Congressional Leaders.’ Here’s what it said:

‘The President had a productive meeting to discuss the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment plan with Democratic congressional leaders late this afternoon. They agreed on the urgency of passing effective legislation in the short term and committed to continue working together to achieve the bipartisan consensus that the President has sought throughout this process.’

In other words, ‘We had a meeting. But we’re not really going to tell you one darn thing about what was said.’


Another message, about Tuesday’s presidential schedule, went out eight minutes later. It did not appear to be related to the meeting description.

It was just the usual general guidance for the media about President Obama’s schedule today. To political strategists, however, one line sticks out and flows directly from decisions made in the first meeting:

‘In the afternoon, the President will do interviews with ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and FOX News in the Oval Office.’

Here’s why more than one week after the new president ignored Americans and gave his very first broadcast interview to an Arab channel, he’s now suddenly talking individually with five separate domestic TV networks:

Obama and the Democrats are losing the Washington-based word war about the economic stimulus package.

Watch the cable channels. Read the newspapers. The editorial pages if you can. If it’s not about the latest would-be Cabinet member to discover inadvertent income tax errors in his favor, it’s about how the Democrats, mainly in the House, larded up the economic stimulus legislation with every conceivable favorite Dem goodie from the arts to sexually-transmitted diseases to bee subsidies. Speaker Nancy Pelosi let them do it. and now it’s up to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid -- who doesn’t work for Obama, you know -- to fix it.

As a result of the goodie overload, the president’s desire for quick stimulus and a bipartisan flavor got an embarrassing 0 Republican House votes. And to protect themselves from appearing obstructionist, the Republicans went on the offensive about all the non-stimulative pieces in there.

And even Democratic commentators who get a thrill up their leg at the sound of Obama’s name are asking, ‘Why couldn’t they just have a piece for bridges and a piece for roads, etc.?’

And Democratic supporters on TV with their DNC talking points are reduced to saying, ‘Yes, well, of course, in any legislation this large you’re going to have. ...’ So the argument has become over pork. Which is a loser, especially if you want to be the Great Change Agent.

So tonight, through the network interviews, which will be replayed Wednesday morning, Obama will seek to reset the focus on economic stimulus. Get the talk back on home turf. Stop playing D. The suggested talking points will arrive on his Oval Office desk this morning for presidential digestion.

And no matter what the questions on tonight’s evening news, he’ll seem to answer them good-naturedly while smoothly nudging the talk back around to the need to stimulate the economy and how this package does it. And don’t forget the need for urgency and bipartisanship.

And the chorus will pick it up on Wednesday.

--Andrew Malcolm

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