‘Let them know’

We talked the other day about President Obama’s speech at a Michigan factory, and the introduction of a new narrative. In effect, the president began the process of re-diagnosing what ails us: in this model, the economy is struggling badly, but that’s a symptom of a larger disease. Policymakers and the institutions themselves, Obama argued, are fully capable of addressing this and other problems if our politics weren’t so badly broken.

This is a message the White House apparently intends to keep pushing. Consider the president’s weekly address this morning.

While pushing for Congress to extend the payroll tax break and invest in infrastructure, Obama pushed the larger message: “[W]hile there’s nothing wrong with our country, there is something wrong with our politics, and that’s what we’ve got to fix…. [W]e can no longer let partisan brinksmanship get in our way — the idea that making it through the next election is more important than making things right. That’s what’s holding us back — the fact that some in Congress would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.”

He didn’t use the word “Republican,” but I suspect most who saw/heard the remarks got the point.

Also of interest, the president urged the public to let their voices be heard.

“[Y]ou’ve got a right to be frustrated. I am. Because you deserve better. And I don’t think it’s too much for you to expect that the people you send to this town start delivering.

“Members of Congress are at home in their districts right now. And if you agree with me — whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican or not much of a fan of either — let them know. If you’ve had it with gridlock, and you want them to pass stalled bills that will help our economy right now — let them know. If you refuse to settle for a politics where scoring points is more important than solving problems; if you believe it’s time to put country before party and the interests of our children before our own — let them know.

“And maybe they’ll get back to Washington ready to compromise, ready to create jobs, ready to get our fiscal house in order — ready to do what you sent them to do.”

Obama’s desire to start changing the politics is understandable. At this point, there’s literally no person or entity congressional Republicans seem willing to listen to, but if GOP lawmakers fear severe electoral consequences, there’s at least a slightly better chance they could be a little less ridiculous.

Then again, at the risk of sounding cynical, I’m not optimistic about this. Most Americans won’t hear the president’s appeal; far fewer will feel inclined to pick up the phone; and most Republican lawmakers probably won’t care anyway. Obama’s public appeals during the debt-ceiling fight helped crash Capitol Hill phone lines and web servers, but there’s scant evidence it affected the GOP at all.

The larger White House message, though, strikes me as fairly compelling. Indeed, some might say he’s even telling a persuasive story — the nation will excel when our politics improve and our politics will improve when Republicans start taking problem-solving seriously. If Washington stagnates, the story goes, we’ll know who to blame.