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10 things Obama must do in Congress tonight

September 9, 2009 |  1:33 am

Democrat president Barack Obama addresses a Joint Session of Congress 2009

The speeches didn't do it.

The town halls didn't do it.

The gazillion e-mails and support groups didn't do it.

The news conferences didn't do it.

So, tonight President Obama ups the ante and at 5 PDT (8 p.m. Eastern, 1 a.m. Thursday GMT) he speaks to a joint session of Congress in an attempt to regain the healthcare reform debate initiative and rescue his embattled, melting program.

He knew from mid-summer polling that there would be trouble if Congress left town for its August recess and got an earful of doubts from the folks back where the members used to live.

Healthcare reform's polling numbers are down. And so, for that matter, are Obama's, especially among the crucial independents who had no idea they were electing such a change maniac when they rejected the old guy and believed in the young, inexperienced fellow talking change to believe in.

And although Obama's own Democratic party controls both houses handily, that's exactly what Congress did, leave town without giving the president his coveted healthcare vote.

All thanks to the stubborn doubts over a government healthcare option among fellow Democrats, who are less liberal than the leadership. They're the Party Wing of No, the so-called blue dogs, who are....

...turning blue because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid are choking them so hard.

Much speculation on what the president will or won't say tonight. Probably count on not a whole lot about Afghanistan and the administration's second impending troop surge there. Obama will get some kind of reform bill by year's end, the question being how meager.

As a real good talker, the president's MO has been to leave the legislative details to the Hill, be perfectly clear about the need for a government option but hedge about its necessity and drive home instead why America can no longer go down this or that road because bad things are sure to happen if we don't change to his course, which he hasn't really spelled out but we should trust that, although unknown, it would be better than the other bad things he says are surely en route.

So here's your own Ticket tip sheet, 10 things the president must do in his address tonight:

IV Bag life support for healthcare reform

No. 10 -- Shake a lot of hands and smile with the crowd of congressional suck-ups crowding the aisle as the president enters the House chamber.

No. 9 -- Don't stumble on the way up the podium steps.

No. 8 -- Hand speech copies to Vice President Joe Biden and Pelosi as if they don't know what's in it and haven't already planned which lines to leap up at and enthusiastically applaud.

No. 7 -- Smile and nod at the thunderous applause and shouts from the Democratic side and patiently pretend you want the ovation to stop. (For Harvard's sake, don't do that royal looking-down-your-nose thing.)

No. 6 -- Acknowledge all the really important people present, perhaps especially the newest member of the Supreme Court. Let that applause roll on for Sonia Sotomayor in her second day in that nifty robe.

No. 5 -- Regret the absence of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy; perhaps nod toward a vacant seat. (UPDATE: Or, better yet, read excerpts from the dying senator's personal letter.)

No. 4 -- Acknowledge the key role of your partner VP Biden in getting the economy back on its feet. Let the laughter die down.

No. 3 -- Make yet another passionate case for healthcare reform, warn of serious dangers for failure and mention some Americans by name who are suffering without it. Maybe one or two of them happen to be in the balcony shyly awaiting recognition.

No. 2 -- Make a pitch with that JFK hand motion for bipartisanship. Americans like such talk. It won't happen, can't happen and in the end the people don't really care. But it'll give surrogates talking points come next year's congressional campaigns. (When leaving, maybe walk out of your way to shake a Republican leader's hand on-camera.)

No. 1 --  Don't forget the God bless America line.

Now, for the 23 people who will continue watching, here are the 10 things that the Republican responder, Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, must do in his aftermath remarks:

No. 10  -- Absolutely agree with the president on the need for both healthcare reform and bipartisanship.

No. 9 -- Worry about costs and lost jobs and choices and too much government in the Democratic plan crafted without GOP input.

Nos. 8 -2 -- See No. 1.

No. 1 -- Do a lot better than Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in his muffed response to Obama's last joint session address way back in January before Vice President Biden started turning the economy around with all those shovel-ready projects.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Associated Press; Getty Images.