Obama’s ‘Campaign’ for the Jobs Bill

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Arizona Senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain took to the Senate floor Monday to lambast the President’s listening tour this week on jobs. From his remarks:

The president is now on his listening, quote, listening tour, at taxpayers’ expense the president made these remarks on a taxpayer-paid-for, riding in a Canadian bus, visit for the next three days… White house officials insist the trip is about jobs, not votes. So much so, in fact, they a conference call to reiterate that point several times pointing out that the trip is fully on the taxpayers’ dime, not the republicans’ re-election campaign. So the president has taken to the road and, I mean, he spent a number of minutes attacking our plan, and I understand that. I think he has the — certainly in a political venue — the right and privilege to do that. I think the question might be, though, is that appropriate on the taxpayers’ dime, since it is clearly campaigning. And, I must say again, I’ve never seen an uglier bus than the Canadian one. He’s traveling around on a Canadian bus touting American jobs. So — and one of the reasons why Americans and I and my colleagues are a bit skeptical, because we’ve seen this movie before. We saw this movie before. It feels a little bit like something we’ve heard before.

Setting aside the fact that, as White House Communication director Dan Pfeiffer pointed out to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, McCain’s Straight Talk Express bus was made by the same company, there are two interesting points here.

1)   This, as McCain notes, is something we’ve seen before – though not in the way he means. I covered George W. Bush’s reelect in 2004. No one used the power of the incumbency better than Bush. We used to go to 15-minute official “speeches” that were then followed up by a fundraiser and a campaign rally. The rally often entailed the Bush campaign renting out a minor league baseball field. Marine One would land in the outfield – gassed up at the taxpayer’s expense – and Bush would come striding out to the theme song from the movie Air Force One.

Thinly veiled non-campaign campaign events are par for the course with any reelection effort, presidential or otherwise. And, to be fair, a lot of the expense incurred is Secret Service-mandated. The President can’t fly in anything but Air Force One or Marine One; the Secret Service would never allow him to rent a campaign plane. During Bush’s reelect, Democrats had similar gripes about the cost to taxpayers. This is a perennial and predictable complaint invoked by the other side during every campaign.

2)   Finally, Obama is learning: you have to sell your platform! Why wasn’t he out in the states selling health care reform or financial re-regulation or the stimulus? When Bush tried for Social Security reform, he did 50 speeches in 50 cities (Pelosi even offered to pay for an additional 10 cities). Bush, and his cabinet, sold the heck out of the Iraq war, No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D – crisscrossing the country. I’ve always wondered why Obama sat in Washington for much of his first term, waiting for Congress to act, with his cabinet twiddling their thumbs. In fact, his cabinet is still twiddling. But, the fact that he’s finally actually trying to sell a policy is a good thing – never mind it’s one doomed to failure – even if it’s too little too late.

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