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June 18, 2012 9:50 AM Yes, He’s Running Against Congress

By Jonathan Bernstein

Last week, I listened to Barack Obama’s campaign speech and what I heard is that he intends to run against Congress — and against MittRomneyandCongress. As a fan of Congress in the abstract, I’m not happy to see that, but I also think it’s logical, given that everybody (almost) hates Congress. I had a fair amount of pushback from commenters, however, who didn’t hear the speech the way I did.

Well, I’m going to declare victory on this one, at least for now. Now, granted, Obama’s weekly radio addresses aren’t quite campaign speeches, but his speech this week is all Congress-bashing, all the time. This time, there’s only one mention of “Republicans”, and none to Paul Ryan, John Boehner, or anyone else by name. It’s all “Congress,” or “Members of Congress.” Here’s the conclusion:

Every problem we face is within our power to solve.  What’s lacking is our politics.  Remind your Members of Congress why you sent them to Washington in the first place.  Tell them to stop worrying about the next election and start worrying about the next generation.  I’m ready to work with anyone – Republican, Democrat, or Independent – who is serious about moving this country forward.  And I hope Members of Congress will join me.

Again, I think it  makes lots of sense for Obama to do this. No one knows who Paul Ryan is, or even John Boehner, so why take the time to try to educate swing voters about them? Meanwhile, it allows Obama to take an above-the-fray rhetorical stance even while what he’s actually doing is partisan bickering (why is it above-the-fray? Because he gets to say that he’s representing all the people, while Congress is easy to use as a symbol for petty partisan squabbling. No, it’s not true, and in my view it doesn’t make logical sense, but it absolutely taps in to how the political culture treats Congress).

I’ve actually been saying for a while that Obama would run against Congress — not Republicans, but Congress — and I the evidence so far is solidly that he is.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

Comments

  • N.Wells on June 18, 2012 2:37 PM:

    "so why take the time to try to educate swing voters about them?"
    Because he needs to sweep out Republicans to have a prayer of accomplishing anything in his second term, and because riding a nationwide wave of voter repulsion at Republican excesses and stupidity is his best way of winning re-election. Having voters mad at "congress" only leads to turning off voters and tea-party-like rhetoric, which may be a Republican wet dream, but cannot constitute a workable Democratic solution to our problems. He doesn't have to explain who Boehner is, but he does need to say "Republican" enough times to turn it into a bad word.