Obama's Lackadaisical Attempt to Campaign His Way Around Congress

In a way, the president conceded on Wednesday that his critics had been right for months: Obama's strategy for effecting change is to run a non-stop campaign.

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In a way, the president conceded on Wednesday that his critics had been right for months: Obama's strategy for effecting change is to run a non-stop campaign. He's giving as many as eight speeches over the next couple months, with one on infrastructure in Florida on Thursday. In his speech in Illinois, Obama made clear why he was doing it. It takes two to legislate, and the House of Representatives refuses to budge. The risk Obama faces is that Americans don't really seem to want to dance, either. 2013 is no 2012.

Over the weekend, the president's advisors started pitching Wednesday's speech at Knox College. On Sunday, Politico reported, Obama's communications chief Dan Pfeiffer sent an email to White House reporters with subject line, "I don't normally do this."

Hey everyone, I don't usually write emails like this … But I just finished reading the draft of a speech the President plans to deliver on Wednesday, and I want to explain why it's one worth checking out.

Perhaps that draft speech differed from the one that was delivered, but the verdict on the speech itself was largely that it trod well-worn ground. The Washington Post put it well: "You could be forgiven if you thought you had heard President Obama’s speech on the economy today before. Because you have. For most of the 2012 campaign." Which, as we pointed out, was part of the point: get people refocused on Obama's campaign goals.

With a heavy dose of bashing Republican obstructionism. If the thinking is that an appeal to the people can somehow stir Republicans to action, it's not clear how a rehash of 2012 arguments at a lower temperature will do the trick. Even in the best of times, as Jonathan Chait wrote in May, the ability of a president to bend the world to his will is limited. Doing it with the same rhetoric, lower approval ratings, and less attention seems like a doomed proposition.

And with a weakened campaign infrastructure. Organizing For Action, meant to provide the sort of off-year infrastructure that Obama enjoyed during his reelection, has struggled to find its feet. This August, the group plans to launch a series of actions meant to spur Obama's slumbering base into action. As the group's own map shows, however, its strength is largely in areas that already support the president and his agenda. A few OFA actions and an Obama speech seems unlikely to convince voters in Mississippi to rail against their Congressmembers.

Politico's Glenn Thrush and Carrie Budoff Brown think part of the idea is just to re-energize Obama himself.

Obama has embarked on this week’s series of policy speeches to improve his own ambiguous frame of mind and take a comforting spin in the way-back machine, like a veteran chart-topper revisiting smaller, friendlier haunts on a comeback tour.

It's not clear what this means. That the Obama who sold out Shea in 2012 will play CBGB in 2013 just to stay fresh? Who knows. If the president thinks it will take a few shows at a suburban Houlihan's to get the cobwebs off, this permanent campaign thing may not work out that well.

Obama is giving another speech today, by the way. The Hill explains:

President Obama will push for new infrastructure projects and investments as he hits the road again Thursday, traveling this time to Jacksonville, Fla., for his third consecutive speech on the economy. …

The White House chose the port as the site of the speech because it is home to two projects — a container terminal and a rail yard — that the administration expedited last year as part of a broader infrastructure push.

Perhaps this is the speech that can do the trick, can energize the people to force the House into action on the president's priorities. But don't be surprised if it, too, sounds familiar. After all, the president has made similar infrastructures pitches before. Like in March. In Florida.

Photo: Obama works the room on Wednesday. (AP)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.