Squabble Over Timing of Obama's Jobs Speech Is Embarrassing

With unemployment so high, internal power plays are frustrating.

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There is really only one word to sum up the recent dispute between the White House and congressional Republicans over when to hear the president talk about creating jobs:

Really?

The whole episode is so embarrassing, on so many levels. President Obama, who for weeks has been promising a major speech on ways to create jobs, sent what is normally a perfunctory request to Congress, asking to be hosted on the Wednesday after Labor Day. [See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

House Speaker John Boehner said no. Really. This was the first time in history that a Speaker has rejected a presidential request to speak to Congress. Perhaps it's not so surprising; there have already been signals that some Republicans either don't think Obama is legitimately the president, or for some reason, don't think they have to treat him as the president. Boehner failed to return a call from the president during the debt ceiling debate. A Republican at the healthcare talks at Blair House complained that the Democrats were bring given more time to yammer on than the GOP; in reality, the time was virtually equal between the two parties' congressional representatives. It was the president's remarks that added to the "D" column—and the Republican member seemed to think Obama should be on the same level as members of Congress. Then, there are those who still can't accept that Obama is a real American, convinced he began an elaborate scheme, from birth, to wrongly claim U.S. citizenship.

Boehner said he was concerned that the logistics would be too disruptive to House members, who don't absolutely have to be back in Washington until Wednesday evening. Really? Most of us are back at work the Tuesday morning after Labor Day—not counting those who have to work on the Monday holiday. A Republican National Committee spokeswoman accused the president of playing politics by trying the steal the limelight from GOP presidential candidates set to hold a debate that night. The "really?" question isn't even about whether the Democratic incumbent might not mind big-footing the debate. The disbelief here comes from the fact that the RNC thinks people were going to be glued to the TV, anyway, to watch the debate. This is not to say the debate isn't valuable, or important. But for most Americans, the value will be in seeing video clips or news stories on something bizarre or creative or otherwise newsworthy said by one of the candidates. The American public isn't paying much attention to the primary contest right now. Probably half of the current candidates will have dropped out of the race by the time most Americans go to vote in the primaries. And it's not as though it's a debate in New Hampshire or Iowa, right ahead of those states' early contests. [See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]

Obama caved (really), agreeing to deliver the speech on Thursday, opening night for the NFL season. Again, it's unclear how many people feel genuinely torn over which event to watch. But there is one truth from this: the American people, suffering from unemployment rates of more than 9 percent, would prefer to see their elected officials spend their intellectual energy on job creation instead of internal power plays. Really.

  • Read Rick Newman: 7 Ways Obama Can Gain Credibility on Jobs
  • Vote now: Will Obama be a one-term president?
  • See photos of the GOP hopefuls on the campaign trail.