Barack Obama attracted many independents in 2008 with his “post-partisan” approach to politics, but this turned out to be far more effective for campaigning against an unpopular incumbent as opposed to governing. Regardless of how much Obama wanted to compromise, the Republicans made opposing everything Obama supported their major goal. Obama’s support of moderate economic policies and a moderate health care reform plan did not prevent bogus claims that Obama is a socialist who supported a government take-over of health care.
As long as Obama’s popularity was soaring far above that of Congress, it was difficult to criticize Obama for maintaining this approach despite my fears that he would eventually suffer in the polls if the economy remained bad. In recent weeks his popularity has dropped, even if it remains well above that of Congress and of Republicans. A recent Pew Research Center survey showed that “Currently, 57% of Democrats say Obama should challenge the Republicans more often, while 32% say he is handling relations with the GOP about right. ” This is up from 37% in April who said Obama should challenge the Republicans more. The number of Independents who want Obama to stand up more to the Republicans has increased from 30% to 36% since April.
The importance of doing this extends beyond these poll numbers. Considering that public opinion regarding the economy typically lags actual improvement by several months, it is likely that a poor economy could cause an incumbent president to lose votes in 2012. It is essential that Obama make the case that it was Republican policies which caused the recession, actions of Congressional Republicans which have hindered recovery, and that further Republican polices will make matters worse.
Perhaps I am overly concerned, considering Obama’s other advantages as an incumbent. Allan Lichtman, an American University professor who has a formula which predicted every presidential race correctly since 1984, has predicted Obama will win reelection. However there really have not been many presidential elections which were very difficult to predict since then, and I also think there is wisdom to the old Clinton mantra that, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Of course the Obama political team which beat Hillary Clinton and then went on to an easy victory in the general election is not stupid either. Presumably they were continuing the same strategy as long as Obama was doing well in the polls, and now realize that they must change their message. I have seen a number of indicators that they plan to take a harder line against the Republicans, including today’s article in The Hill:
President Obama is preparing to fight a political war this fall on two fronts — the first against Republicans who want his job and the second against Republicans who want to make his job more difficult.
Obama is taking dead-aim at the latter group, targeting Congress in a fall offensive that the president’s reelection campaign hopes will bruise the overall GOP image beyond repair…
When GOP lawmakers return, the president and his team are ready to deliver a flurry of attacks, castigating Congress for inaction on jobs, being on the wrong side of taxes and eager to destroy social safety net programs. If Obama and his team have their way, Americans will come to see every Republican as a Tea Party extremist.
The president previewed this effort when he started throwing jabs while on the road in August.
At a stop in Michigan and repeatedly during his Midwest bus tour, Obama lashed out at Congress for imperiling the economic recovery and playing politics that caused the country’s credit rating to be reduced at a time when he was working for a grand compromise.
The president is still talking about compromise, but his tone and posture indicate he is more — or at least as — interested in combat…
And there’s a bonus to beating Congress to a pulp that officials think will pay off next year.
By forcing the GOP to take positions on such key economic issues as the payroll tax cut and tax cuts for the rich, Obama and his team are hoping to draw out and lock down the president’s 2012 challengers.
Example: If the debate turns on Republicans trying to gut Social Security, then expect the Democratic National Committee to connect the dots from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the new GOP presidential front-runner, who once wrote that Social Security was “a Ponzi scheme.”