On the cusp of irrelevancy

Dana Milbank:

"Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his secretary - an outrage he has asked us to fix," Obama went on. Widespread laughter broke out on the GOP side of the aisle.

"This isn't political grandstanding," Obama said. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) guffawed.

"This isn't class warfare," Obama said. More hysterics on the right.

"We've identified over 500 [regulatory] reforms which will save billions of dollars," the president claimed. Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) giggled.


Presidential addresses to Congress are often dramatic moments. This one felt like a sideshow. Usually, the press gallery is standing room only; this time only 26 of 90 seats were claimed by the deadline. Usually, some members arrive in the chamber hours early to score a center-aisle seat; 90 minutes before Thursday's speech, only one Democrat was so situated.

Republican leaders, having forced Obama to postpone the speech because of the GOP debate, decided they wouldn't dignify the event by offering a formal, televised "response." And the White House, well aware of Obama's declining popularity, moved up the speech time to 7 p.m. so it didn't conflict with the Packers-Saints NFL opener at 8:30.

Even some Democrats found little in the speech to be excited about. And you could sense in the build up to the speech that the president is increasingly being seen as an extra - a bit player in Washington. The usual buzz was missing as both politicians and pundits resigned themselves to the fact that Obama would offer little that was new and would rehash the same tired rhetoric bashing Republicans and his predecessor to deflect blame from himself.

Obama did not disappoint.

Of course, presidents are never totally irrelevant. But the weaker Obama is perceived, the less he is able to instill fear or respect in both friend and foe. When that happens, Congress, being the herd of cats that they truly are, can't be whipped into doing his bidding.

The result is failure - exactly what we are now seeing.