If ever a President needed to make a speech to turn away the tide against him and his policies, now is it.
I am reminded of the 1995 movie “The American President” which starred Michael Douglas as President.
In that movie the push for a crime bill that exerted great controls on gun ownership and an energy bill that would have significantly reduced emissions were both high priorities for the President. In time the woman hired by the environmental lobby to help insure the energy bill’s passage, became the President girlfriend.
As the story goes, while she was wrangling enough votes for the environmental bill, the President cut a deal that got him enough votes to pass his crime bill. But only after he traded some votes from the environmental legislation for the crime measure.
While all this was going on, the President was facing a Republican opponent for reelection to office. Bob Rumson, the Republican candidate, was relentlessly attacking President Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas, because of his relationship with his girlfriend, a lobbyist, and his poll numbers were crashing. In the end, when the President’s girlfriend, played by Annette Benning, finds out that he sold out on the energy bill that she was working to pass, she felt betrayed.
Then one day President Andrew Shepherd abruptly interrupts a daily White House briefing. As a shocked White House Press Corps listens, President Shepherd issues a powerful speech that stands up to his critics, frames both the energy bill and the crime bill in a way that turns everything around and gets the world on his side and makes his opponents look like Newt Gingrich on steroids.
When all is done Annette Benning comes running back to Michael Douglas and he gets reelected President and the world is a better place for it all.
Well that is Hollywood and although President Obama is a favorite of Hollywood’s liberal elite, D.C. is far removed from the scripted reality that Tinsel town writes about. But President Obama might just have taken one lesson from that movie. In The American President, after everything went out of control for Andrew Shepherd, he did not create a humongous build up and put all he had into one national and rare speech before a joint session of Congress. He just took the bull by the horns and surprised everyone with his command and leadership. Andrew Shepherd didn’t throw all his chips in the pot on just one hand of poker.
President Obama on the other hand has. He just put all he has on the line and unless he has a royal flush, putting everything on the line in this one speech on health management and care reform is not wise. Unless his oratory and rhetorical prowess can swing the national mood in this one speech, the President is not about to do the right thing.
What he does need to do is focus less on delivering the “one” right speech and start doing like LBJ did when he was determined to pass a civil rights bill. LBJ was willing to anger members of his own party to work with Republicans to get enough votes to pass civil rights legislation.
President Obama must focus less on delivering the right speech and focus more on the right reforms, such as tort reform and the portability issue. If he would be willing to bridge divides rather than point than simply highlight them, he might have some support from both sides of the aisle.
But instead, President Obama has decided to put all his cards on the table in one speech. One speech that he hopes can turn everyone around.
That approach works in Hollywood and it worked for Andrew Shpeherd. It also worked for Ronald Reagan, but I remember Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama is no Ronald Reagan.