President Obama, in his televised talk tonight, trotted out the same false choices he provided in his USA Today oped. The same objections apply. He draped himself in Reagan, as I predicted in my column last week. He was more pointed and aggressive than he's been in some other recent appearances in aiming at the "wealthiest," a term he used four times in a short speech. His delivery, particularly early on, was awkward, with almost a deer-in-the-headlights uncomfortable look. And even its internal logic was inconsistent. First, he praised his own "balanced" approach because it "asks everyone to give a little without requiring anyone to sacrifice too much," and because "the burden is fairly shared." He faulted the Republican approach because it "doesn't ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all." (As if they aren't contributing anything at all now.) And then, he says, "Keep in mind that under a balanced approach, the 98% of Americans who make under $250,000 would see no tax increases at all. None." It's totally contradictory: first he brags about fairly sharing the burden and asking everyone to give a little and faults the Republicans for not asking the wealthiest to contribute anything at all, and then he turns around and promises "the 98% of Americans who make under $250,000" that they aren't going to have to sacrifice or share any burdens.
Speaker Boehner, by contrast, was a refreshing surprise, much better than expected. He got off some excellent lines. My favorite was this: "The president has often said we need a 'balanced' approach — which in Washington means: we spend more. . .you pay more.....the president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today. " He went on, "right now, we have a government so big and so expensive it's sapping the drive of our people...There is no symptom of big government more menacing than our debt. Break its grip, and we begin to liberate our economy and our future."
Where it all goes from here is anyone's guess, but my bet is that it will be some time before Mr. Obama agrees to go on television in prime time if he knows the Republicans are going to have a chance to reply afterward in the same prime time. It's one thing in the State of the Union, when all the theatrics favor the president. But this was something different. Mr. Boehner could do worse than to challenge the president to a head-to-head debate. But he's probably better off concentrating on getting a deal with the Senate.