Push for President Obama’s jobs bill illustrates the art of beating a dead horse

“Why don’t we just pretend he didn’t die? Just for a bit!” — Larry Wilson in “Weekend at Bernie’s”

It might help to think of the American Jobs Act as Elvis.

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The King made $60 million last year even though he died in 1977. The lesson: Just ’cause something is dead doesn’t mean it can’t be effective. 

And so it is with President Obama and his jobs bill. It’s dead as is. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said so. And maybe more importantly, a number of Democratic senators have implied as much. 

But that will not stop Obama from talking about the jobs bill and nothing else. That’s because the White House hopes the president’s steady drumbeat of “pass the bill” can become a rallying cry for his supporters even if it doesn’t create a single job.

“He has to keep this up so long that after people stop thinking it has a chance they start thinking that he is some sort of crazy for creating jobs,” one Democratic strategist said. “Repetition, repetition, repetition.”

It doesn’t matter that this bill will not pass as is. It doesn’t matter that the bridge linking Ohio (House Speaker John Boehner) to Kentucky (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) wasn’t even in the bill. What matters to the White House are the politics of the battle. The president’s advisers want to ensure Obama has a vehicle to get him on the right side of the fear and loathing America feels toward Washington.

Senior administration officials have warned reporters for the last month that Obama will be pushing the jobs bill long after the press has grown bored of hearing about it.

It will be at that point, the thinking goes, that Americans will have heard about it, embraced it and joined the president in calling for its passage.

But it still won’t pass.

It doesn’t have nearly enough Senate support to win the 60 votes necessary to clear procedural hurdles. Senior administration officials, when asked about the lack of Democratic support in the upper chamber, brushed off any hint of concern, saying that 95 percent of Democrats support that plan.

Maybe, if you count the House. 

Ninety-five percent in the Senate means winning 51.3 Democratic senators of 54. It’s probably closer to 49.2. Either way, it’s far short of 60. 

But neither the White House nor the Chicago campaign team is getting hung up on such details. 

Instead, they know the bill will be broken up, and smaller battles will break out, giving Obama smaller victories that officials hope will add up to a big win next November.

But more important than that are the myriad opportunities available this fall and winter for Congress to act like Congress and for Obama to call them out for doing so.

The government again reached the brink of a shutdown last week. The supercommittee process will be painful to watch. The debt-ceiling debate will reverberate, and the voter disdain for Washington is likely to grow.

Obama wants in on that, and Cantor played right into his hands on Monday when he said that the jobs bill is dead.

For stating the obvious, Cantor was rewarded by Obama making the majority leader the new face of obstruction in his Tuesday speech in Texas. 

“Yesterday the Republican majority leader in Congress, Eric Cantor, said that right now, he won’t even let the jobs bill have a vote in the House of Representatives,” Obama said.

“Well, I’d like Mr. Cantor to come down here to Dallas and explain what in this jobs bill he doesn’t believe in. Does he not believe in rebuilding America’s roads and bridges? Does he not believe in tax breaks for small businesses, or efforts to help veterans?”

Note that Obama did not invite Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) or Ben Nelson (Neb.) to Texas. 

Damn the outliers. This isn’t about vote-counting. This is about the meta. Democrats versus Republicans.

A campaign official noted the Tuesday morning front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which tells the story of Cantor declaring the jobs bill dead.

“Is that the headline you want?” the official said.

It’s the headline the campaign wants. Because this is not about passing a bill. 

The bill is a prop. It is a weapon Obama is using to rally his base, show he has some fight and draw a line between himself and the GOP.

The campaign will spend next year telling voters what they should be against. This phase is about telling voters what Obama is for.

The rest of the year will be about Obama getting mileage from things that are dead, specifically the jobs bill and Osama bin Laden. 

And while it might seem to Washington like the president is tilting at windmills, the hope in Chicago is that voters want to fight windmills too, and they trust Obama to lead the charge.

If that turns out to be the case, then folks in Washington might start wondering about the jobs bill the same way Elvis fans wonder about the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Maybe it’s not really dead.

Youngman is the White House correspondent for The Hill. Find his column, Obama’s Bid for Reelection, on thehill.com.