President Obama delivered a major economic address in Galesburg, Illinois today, in which he discussed the progress made since he took office and his economic priorities for his remaining three and a half years as President. As usual, President Obama’s office released the full remarks of his speech around the time that it began. Occasionally, the President gave quick ad-libs, usually ones that could not be distinguished from the scripted part of the speech if one were not following along. However, these throw in lines revealed Obama’s opinion of Congress and how he intends to approach the economy.
“That’s all I care about. I don’t have another election.”
President Obama had just stated that he would spend “every minute of the 1,276 days remaining in my term to make this country work for working Americans again.” Then he went off-script for a moment and delivered the above line. With those words, President Obama pointed out a stark truth about almost every member of Congress: they don’t just care about policy, they care about keeping their jobs (and positioning themselves for lucrative lobbying jobs, but that’s another issue). Members of Congress are distracted—they spend at least 30% of their time fundraising, mostly from lobbyists and big donors—and distorted—Congress members have to think about whether their policies can be used by opponents in their next race. For example, Liz Cheney (daughter of former Vice President Voldemort), is challenging fellow Republican Mike Enzi for his Senate seat in Wyoming on the grounds that Enzi works with Obama too much. There isn’t a lot Enzi could do to work with Obama less, but any vote, meeting or photo between now and election day 2014 will be fodder for Cheney to attack Enzi with. That’s just one example, and there are thousands of others that are less obvious, but which steer Congress away from helping their constituents and toward getting their votes.
“When we think about our own communities, we’re not a mean people, we’re not a selfish people. Our politics shouldn’t reflect that.”
President Obama has championed the vision of a friendly, cooperative Congress since he first ran for President. It’s plain to anyone paying an ounce of attention that our politics are toxic, because they are poisoned by a competitive mentality, and members from different sides of the political spectrum don’t spend much time with each other. Congress members, at least publicly, are nothing but mean and selfish to each other. That vitriol does occasionally trickle down to neighborly relationships, but most of us can be perfectly friendly to a member of the opposite party.
“We’re going to make this work, with or without Congress.”
President Obama knows that he can can’t count on Congress for anything big for the rest of his presidency. He always speaks of bringing together the best ideas of both parties, but with gerrymandering giving Democrats only a slim chance of taking back the House in 2014, Obama knows that very little will get through that legislative body, especially if he supports it. He can rally many Americans around the idea that Republicans should either cooperate or offer real solutions, but most of those Americans don’t live in Tea Party-controlled Congressional districts. So, he’s going to have to make his far-reaching, ambitious plan for the economy work with or without Congress, and whatever “with” he gets is bonus.