The Obama Watch

The Traveling Obama Show

A president who would rather campaign than govern.

By 4.22.11

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In the first few moments of his speech at Northern Virginia Community College on Tuesday, President Obama gave the game away.

He said he ventured to the campus, a mere 17 miles from Washington, to "get out of the immediate environs of Washington and hear directly from voters and have a conversation with them."

Voters?

The election is 19 months away. The government's collision with its debt ceiling is about one month away, maybe less. How is Obama spending the first of the four weeks (if that) he has left before the government -- over which he allegedly presides -- hits its credit limit? He is campaigning for reelection.

Obama's three-stop trip to California and back "has all the markings of a campaign swing," according to Bloomberg News. That's because it is one. Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist Bill Carrick told Bloomberg that the trip was not really campaigning, but, well, with it the White House will "start focusing on swing states early so you can broaden the electoral map."

Two of Obama's three stops are in the swing states of Virginia and Nevada. After his speech in Palo Alto, Calif., he attended fundraisers in San Francisco and Los Angeles -- which is what Democrats running for national office do in Democratic states.

In the trip's public speeches, Obama has portrayed Republicans as cold-hearted agents of the greedy rich who work to squeeze a few more dimes from the peasants by "cutting children out of Head Start." Not a campaign trip? Sure, and Donald Trump has a lovely flaxen mane.

If this story sounds somewhat familiar, that's because in only two years the president has repeated it incessantly. When the stimulus bill was making its way through Congress, Obama took to the road to sell it to the people. His budget? Ditto. The health care bill? Months of the Traveling Obama Show.

On the day of Obama's September 2009 speech to a joint session of Congress urging the passage of health care reform, Politics Daily columnist Walter Shapiro wrote, "Obama has been constantly singing a downbeat chorus about the burden of rapidly escalating health care costs." That was an understatement. By March 3, 2010, Obama had given 35 "major" speeches on health care reform, according to a tally by the Washington Post.

The man loves to talk. He loves the performance and the attention it brings. But at this point in the Obama presidency, it should be obvious to someone in the West Wing that this is an enterprise of rapidly diminishing returns. What is gained from the expulsion of so much wind from the president's overtaxed lungs?

Passage of major legislation? Obama's nearly three dozen speeches actually hurt the cause of health care reform. The health care bill, which he let Congress craft as he flew around the nation talking, was passed through the old-fashioned back-room arm twisting of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, not the persuasive powers of the president. The stimulus bill passed because it was a traditional Congressional goodie bag, not because the president converted reluctant lawmakers into Keynesians.

The president's appeal among independents might be a good indicator of his persuasiveness. These are the Americans most susceptible to a good argument. Obama won 52 percent of independents in the 2008 election, according to CNN exit polls. One year later, CNN exit polling showed that independents broke 60 percent for Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie in New Jersey and 65 percent for Republican Bob McDonnell in Virginia. A year after that, CNN reported that 57 percent of independents voted Republican in the 2010 mid-term elections. Obama's support among independents today? Thirty-five percent, according to the latest Gallup poll.

How can Obama win the future if he can't even win independents? Obama's answer: Give more speeches! The right answer: Park Air Force One, unplug the teleprompter, roll up the sleeves, and govern.

Americans see a nation falling apart around them. Home values continue to drop while inflation, gas prices, government spending, and the national debt are shooting so high, even Charlie Sheen would look at them and say, "Dude, I think you have a problem."

Yet instead of sitting at his desk and fixing these problems, the president has spent the last two years doing the same thing he spent the previous four years doing: giving speeches. Is it too much to ask that the president stop talking and start working?

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About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.