The medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan taught us.
With that in mind, what should we make of the fact that President Obama has requested a joint session of Congress on the evening of Sept. 7 to lay out his jobs program?
The high-profile setting, with live coverage by the networks and news channels almost guaranteed, would suggest that Obama intends to be ambitious in his proposal. A more cynical mind would also note that Obama might be treating this as the kickoff to his 2012 election campaign, using the speech to lay out a series of proposals and publicly challenge a highly unpopular Congress to adopt them.
If Obama has decided to model his campaign on Harry Truman’s 1948 successful campaign, in which “Give ‘em Hell” Harry ran hard against a do-nothing Congress, this would seem to be a great opportunity to drive that message home.
Of course, that’s not how the White House put it in the letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:
“It is my intention to lay out a series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to continue to rebuild the American economy by strengthening small business, helping Americans get back to work and putting more money in the paychecks of the middle class and working Americans, while still reducing the deficit and getting our fiscal house in order. It is our responsibility to find bipartisan solutions to help grow our economy, and if we are willing to put country before party, I am confident we can do just that.”
The timing of the speech is also interesting. As it happens, the first in a series of debates among the GOP presidential candidates, this one to be broadcast on MSNBC and held at the Reagan Library in California, is scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday, the exact time requested by Obama.
Imagine that. One would almost think that Obama was using his power as president to steal the spotlight from his would-be challengers and remind them that he has no intention of being upstaged.
In a press briefing this afternoon, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked whether that was the intended message. You can guess his answer.
“No, of course not. There were a lot of considerations. Once you want to do a speech to Congress and you have to deal with congressional schedules and there are many other factors here … one debate of many that is on one channel of many was not enough reason not to have this speech at the time that we decided to have it.”
“There are many opportunities for the American people. There’s a choice they can make to watch the president, to watch the debate,” Carney said. “A network could make a decision to alter the timing of the debate by an hour.”
Or, in the immortal words of Hank Williams, “move over little dog, because the big dog’s movin’ in.”
– Jay Bookman