The start, not the end, of a process

David Corn has a good piece today, noting what happened in December 2009, when President Obama presented a series of ideas for job creation. The administration believed at the time that the recovery wasn’t moving fast enough, so the White House put together a package of ideas, delivered a big speech at the Brookings Institution, and asked Congress to get to work.

And then … nothing. At the time, much of the focus was on health care, and soon after, Massachusetts voters took away Senate Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority, which led many Dems in both chambers to lose their nerve when it came to improving the economy. The package of economic ideas was largely forgotten and ended up withering on the vine.

Corn’s point is that there was no real follow through from the president and his team, which is entirely true, and which ultimately doomed the plan’s chances. “That’s why,” Corn added, “what Obama does after Thursday night’s much-anticipated jobs speech before a joint session of Congress is just as important — if not more so — as what’s in the speech.”

A presidential speech is usually not the end; it’s the beginning of a process. Whatever Obama proposes on Thursday evening, the actions he takes afterward will be critical. […]

Spearheading a jobs push will entail more than speechifying. The president will have to find methods to mobilize constituencies and voters to join him in pressuring Congress. He will have to do more than just repeat the call he issues on Thursday night. No doubt, much of what Obama suggests will be DOA with congressional Republicans — especially the tea party wing — who can be expected to continue insisting that what ails the economy is Obama and government spending. In the face of this fierce opposition, Obama will need to create an ongoing narrative that engages the media and citizens. This probably will require dramatic steps to cut through the usual clutter of the political world, and such actions won’t come unless the president and his aides are truly committed to this priority.

A speech can grab the attention of the political class and voters for a day (sometimes longer if there’s high-schoolish bickering over its scheduling). More sustained engagement — which Obama was able to generate during the 2008 campaign — is a tougher task.

Jonathan Cohn made a similar pitch last week, arguing, “[T]he idea isn’t simply to give one speech. It’s to follow up the speech with appearances, radio addresses, executive orders; to coordinate these actions with the rest of the Democratic Party leadership; to rally validators from outside the party; and to do this over a lengthy period of time. The idea, in other words, is to wage an aggressive and sustained public relations campaign for new interventions into the economy.”

Time will tell, but I’m cautiously optimistic that the White House intends to show some meaningful follow-through on this. The fact that Obama will be in Richmond tomorrow to help sell his agenda is a step in the right direction, and the West Wing would be wise to make it the first of several such events.

And for what it’s worth, reliable sources tell me there’s going to quite a bit to like in tonight’s speech, at least from a lefty perspective, which should give those inclined to support the president’s something to fight for.