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Barack Obama is back.

The firebrand populism of his 2008 presidential campaign, the podium-pounding speeches, the “Yes We Can” rallies calling for a grassroots uprising of the people against special interests, unregulated corporations and under-taxed millionaires all returned in recent weeks as Obama traveled through battleground states demanding tax increases on the rich, pitching his American Jobs Act to the public, and calling on Republicans to “Pass this bill!”

For the countless liberals who felt abandoned by the president, and who abandoned him in return, Obama’s renewed vigor on the campaign trail is a welcomed sign that the candidate of “change” might actually fight for the “Change We Can Believe In.”

But questions remain: What happened to the old Obama? Why did he wait until the 2012 campaign season to finally “pick a fight” with the GOP? Why did he spend the last two and a half years compromising with the Republicans and capitulating to their demands for spending cuts? Why did he back down in the face of government shutdowns and federal debt defaults? Why did he chase down this pipedream that his opponents in Congress would suddenly abandon their obstructionist tactics and start working together for the American people? Why, after failing to unite the Congress and the country, did he continue his conquest for “hope” and “change” even though the opposition obviously had no intention of giving an inch?

Understanding the president’s recent “populist tone” requires understanding the strategy behind the past two and a half years of “capitulations.” It requires understanding that there was a strategy in the first place.

There are several explanations worth noting.

From Chris Savage of Eclectablog:

(F)or the past two and half years, President Obama has, often quietly, fed (Republicans) lengths of rope. A concession here. A backtrack there. Compromise after compromise with hostage-taking conservatives bent on making sure he doesn't succeed in anything that he does, even if it harms the country. …Nobody who is paying any attention at all can continue to believe that Republicans are acting responsibly. When they defend to their last gasp the massive tax breaks given to wealthy individuals and large corporations or the federal tax monies given as subsidies to the most profitable companies in the history of civilization, their motives become crystal clear.

Now, with the impeccable sense of timing and strategic purpose and action that Barack Obama is known for, he is reeling that rope back in.

President Obama has been slowly and quietly moving the conversation of America to his framing. He has done all of the things he had to do to get his initiatives passed, but he has also given the Republicans a broad stage on which to act out their true intent in full view of the American voters. President Obama didn’t move left. He isn't finally doing what progressives have told him to do all along. He is executing perfect timing in a much broader strategy – a strategy which brings America to his position, which is far to the left of today’s Republicans; a divide which is only growing deeper and wider with every utterance of Michele Bachmanns, Rick Perrys, Rick Santorums, John Boehners, Eric Cantors, Mitch McConnells and every other blathering tea partier in our country.

From Deaniac83 of The People’s View:

I have been telling the political pundits for months that President Obama’s strategy has been, since the Republican takeover of the House (thank you, Professional Left) to expose the Right wing insanity, back the Republicans into a corner and make them cry uncle. For this, the president first needed to be seen as – and actually be – the adult in the room who is willing to compromise for the good of the country and expose the Republicans as the burn-down-the-village-to-save-it party. … You do not win strategic battles by getting into a screaming match with your opponent. Nor do you win it by any of the various favored red-meat tactics. You win a strategic battle by deliberate planning and methodical execution.

From Steve Kornacki of Salon:

It seems logical to conclude that President Obama’s sudden eagerness to pick fights with Republicans means that he’s realized the folly of his “reasonable man” strategy and junked it. But a better way to understand the president’s new confrontational posture is as an extension of that strategy.

The “reasonable” approach, remember, grew out of the GOP’s midterm landslide last fall, with a chastened Obama seeking to win back voters by showing a desire to compromise with Republicans on Capitol Hill. If Republicans reciprocated, the thinking went, Obama would benefit from a surprisingly productive legislative year. And if they rebuffed him, he'd also benefit, since it would expose the GOP as a band of obstructionists bent on advancing a narrow agenda and scoring political points.

This strategy, Kornacki argues, “was most prominently on display this summer,” when Obama offered Republicans a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction by offering “steep cuts” to Medicare and Social Security. Republicans walked away from the deal, but Obama offered it nonetheless, much to the chagrin of his liberal base.

“According to its design, this should have been a triumphant moment for the ‘reasonable man’ approach. And in a way, it was,” Kornacki states. “When the debt ceiling crisis was finally resolved, polls showed that Americans were much angrier with Republicans over it than they were with Obama. One survey found that just 33 percent of voters viewed the Republican Party favorably – the worst score ever recorded for either major party.”

It wasn’t a solid victory for Obama because it didn’t do much to boost his approval rating, but “he succeeded in making his opponents look very unreasonable.”

“The debt ceiling experience is a perfect setup for what Obama is now doing,” according to Kornacki.

Each of these insights points to a grand strategy, a conscious effort by the president to give the American people a framework by which they can compare and contrast the Republican Party’s vision of the future with his own.

Each provides context to the battle now unraveling over tax cuts for the rich and a jobs bill that will improve the economy and lower the unemployment rate, but which Republicans oppose nonetheless.

Recall that after the 2010 “shellacking” Democrats took at the voting booth, the American public was suddenly enraged by the growing national debt. Republicans were railing Obama and his party for being typical big-government loving tax-and-spend liberals. It was fear-mongering at its best, but it worked nonetheless. The public was terrified at the size of our national debt.

That fear hasn’t disappeared. The public still supports reducing the debt. The difference now is the contrast between what Republicans want and what Obama is pushing for. It’s a difference between massive budget cuts that hit middle and low-income families, and a balanced approach that calls on millionaires to carry some of the burden.

Obama couldn’t make this pitch without having shown a willingness to negotiate with Republicans. So he cut spending, demonstrating both his concern for America’s long-term fiscal solvency and his ability to be reasonable when dealing with the staunch ideologues on the right.

The budget battles revealed to the American people that Republicans cared more about “starving the beast” than anything else. This was most evident in the April budget negotiations, during which Republicans threatened to shut down the government if Democrats didn’t agree to defund Planned Parenthood, public broadcasting and the EPA. It was billed as a way of cutting the deficit, but eliminating these programs, as I said at the time, was “akin to trying to drain the Atlantic by sticking a Slurpee straw into the Potomac.”

But had Obama allowed these things to happen, had he ignored the demands for debt reduction, let the government shutdown, allowed the United States to default on its loans, and continued pushing for costly stimulus bills, there would have been no contrast between him and the Republicans. Both would have been seen as fighting for their individual agendas, and both would have been despised by the public.

Instead, he played the part of “reasonable man” for an American electorate that overwhelmingly supports the notion that politicians should compromise rather than blindly stick to their principles. He cut spending and eased the fears over our monstrous debt. He negotiated, offered solutions and compromised in order to keep the government operating.

And now he can be viewed not as a left-wing ideologue fighting against the right-wing ideologues, but as a sane advocate of fairness and shared sacrifice.

Obama froze salaries for federal employees, whereas Republicans continue to fight for tax cuts for the rich. Obama agreed to cut spending by trillions of dollars over the next decade, whereas Republicans refuse to balance spending cuts with new revenue. Obama kept the government from shutting down, whereas Republicans seemed not to care about seniors foregoing their Social Security checks and veterans losing their benefits. Obama kept the government from defaulting on its loans, whereas the “fiscally responsible” Republicans voted against paying our debts.

In the era of the permanent campaign, Obama defied the rules and sat back as Republicans controlled the debates, scored points with the Tea Party base and won the small battles over budget cuts. But by doing so, he created a framework that is now permanently fixed in the minds of the American people.

Mainly, he made it through the last two and a half years of anemic economic growth, high unemployment and historically high disapproval of Congress without having to share the blame for a government shutdown, a federal default, and an unaddressed national debt.

The “old Obama” didn’t go anywhere. He was plotting the “shellacking” of Republicans in 2012.

[Cross-posted from]

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Comment Preferences

  •  I disagree with the rope a dope (7+ / 0-)


    Populism is back because the economy is not recovering and the Grand Bargain he sought was rejected.  I strongly support President Obama's re-election.  But I do not support efforts to explain away miscalculations or mistakes in any attempt to show that the President is always right.  He's far better than Rs, but he has made errors.  I'm very glad he can learn from errors and appears to have done so.

    In addition, the "rope a dope" argument seems to lack much pursuasiveness with rpesect to people who do not already agree with it.

    Many who were frustrated are reached by admitting that Obama made some good policy choices, some bad ones, but his heart is good and he is learning from the poor policy choices.  That argument, to me, has the added benefit of consistecy with reality.  


    More jobs equal less debt, even our kids can understand that.

    by TomP on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 10:11:45 AM PDT

  •  11 dimensional chess (8+ / 0-)

    That Obama is one crafty fellow!

  •  Huzzahh! T&R with thx for pointing out what seemed (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jalenth, nocynicism, sewaneepat

    so obvious to some of us, and so obscure to the most vocal.

    It's true, I'm loving the fiery Obama just like many here, but I also know that had he been like this throughout, the luster would have worn off by now. Sure it would have made the firebrands on the left feel good, but that's about all.

    I, for one, admire Pres. Obama's masterful sense of timing (among many other things). But then, I don't need to have the president serve as an echo chamber for my deepest thoughts about what should be done. I recognize there are ways presidents are supposed to act that I'm not capable of emulating. Which is another reason why I'm glad Obama is president, and not me ;)

    But, that's just me ...

    'I'm The 99%' T-shirt: Will donate from income on sales.

    by jan4insight on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 10:20:41 AM PDT

  •  I don't think he planned this out - he did not (9+ / 0-)

    plan for the economy to slip further into the dumper.  He did not plan to propose economic values which are destined to only provide a small amount of help.

    The populism is back - but now there is a bit of question as to when it comes time to actually make the sausage, where will the discussion go?  He is happy having Republican discussions using Republican terminology and framing.  

    In 2008 he did not really speak populism, though folks heard that.  The blockquote there that pointed out Obama is far to the left of today's GOP is certainly true.  Of course, Richard Nixon is also far to the left of today's GOP, and in a lot of ways, today's Barack Obama.  

    If he planned for a 9% unemployment rate and planned to focus on austerism and other such hooey ... that is a high human cost for political chess.

    I support him for all the obvious reasons - but his mistakes and his lapses of thinking in several areas are real, and there is no problem pointing them out.

    •  Took the words right ... (3+ / 0-)

      ... out of my keyboard! I felt exactly the same reading that blockquote about Obama being far to the left of today’s R’s.  Even Reagan in some cases may have been far to the left of these crazies. But, you put it more articulately and distinctly.  

      So, is it fair to ask that Obama was playing politics instead of doing what is right from the beginning, which BTW would have put his re-election in a much better position at this point, while the country was falling deeper into this economic rut?

      Just axin’.

  •  if true it would have been irresponsible (11+ / 0-)

    create your own analogy if you like. Mine is this: imagine an abusive acquaintance who bullies people to get his own way. You know all about it but don't say anything for 2 1/2 years and then want to be praised because by not saying anything you allowed others to see for themselves.

    The problem: Most could see all along and wondered why you, in a position of power, said nothing. By saying nothing you allowed the bully to get away with his actions, which were harmful to everyone except the bully, for 2 1/2 years.

    An alternative explanation is that the President used this kind of talk to get elected the first time and believes that returning to it will help him get re-elected.

    "Things are never so bad they can't get worse" - Dallasdoc

    by Shahryar on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 10:30:45 AM PDT

  •  Let's not go down this road, please (4+ / 0-)

    It can't lead anywhere good.

    The Rent Is Too Damn High Party feels that if you want to marry a shoe, I'll marry you. --Jimmy McMillan

    by Rich in PA on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 10:36:49 AM PDT

  •  I don't believe it's as much calculated (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nocynicism, sewaneepat

    as it seems.  I think he genuinely believe in bipartisan.  He really wants congress to work together and probably believed that the Republicans would work with him on common ground.  He probable tried to develop personal relationships with the Republicans in the hopes they would want to put party aside and work for the good of the American people.  He didn't want to give up even after many of us saw that they never intended and will never help him run the government to the betterment of the country.

    He wasn't going to give up easily because it is his core belief.  But after enough trial and fail and finally with the last betrayal over the debt ceiling crises, he finally decided he can no longer hold out for these Republicans to work with him.

    The progress he's made so far will be undone if Republicans gain control.  He knows that  he needs to stay in office for the next term to insure his policies end up permanent and cannot be easily overturned.  

    He had to give his idea of bi-partisanship a try before moving on to plan B.  It's easy for everyone who isn't president to think they could have done it better, but until you walk in the president's shoes, you don't know jack.

  •  Totally disagree (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PhilK, Shahryar, Rusty SpikeFist 2

    This is just more of that BS "11th Dimension JuJitsu Chess" rubbish we've heard from the Obama supporters for that past 2 and a half years

    Bottom line is that it takes longer to fix something than to break it (that's from the Obama crowd incl the the likes of Deaniac). given that things were in a mess in 2008 when Obama  was elected and would take a long time to fix, do they seriously believe that we'd be overjoyed that Obama the 11 Dim chess master DELIBERATELY allowed the 'Pukes to mess things up further knowing that the time to fix the mess would therfore be increased ?

    Sorry this explanation is BALONEY; what the switch is about is nothing but pure electioneering - it's all about Obama looking after Obama...nothing more

  •  Obama is dusting off (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    swansong50, Rusty SpikeFist 2

    Obama is dusting off his 2008 campaign script because his 2009-2011 will not him elected.  If Obama's record as president was the road to victory, he would be using it.  

    But, do continue to believe in the "11 dimensional chess game", "rope-a-dope", or whatever other justification for the obvious.  Which is, Obama's campaign conversion is calculated to save his job.

    I also thank the one who rearranged deck chairs on the Titanic so those on board ship could get a better view of the iceberg.

    by NyteByrd1954 on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 11:55:13 AM PDT

  •  Obama didn't PLAN the recession... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sewaneepat, Seeds

    No, and I don't believe he was being bipartisan just to set up his re-election. I think he rolled with the punches (call it rope a dope if you wish) when the Right was doing nothing but swinging. He bargained on the debt deal because he had no choice. He's the "reasonable man" because he cut imperfect but necessary deals that kept the U.S. government from shutting down, and later defaulting. It's not some master plan to let the economy falter, but it did falter, and he knew what bills he could and couldn't get through the Republican-controlled House.

    That's smart politics.

    •  No one said he PLANNED the recession (0+ / 0-)

      what we're saying is that the claim that allowing the 'pukes to screw the pooch since is part of some master-plan is HOOEY

      If it is part of a plan then Obama is RESPONSIBLE for pro-longing the recession

    •  You are not serious are you? (0+ / 0-)
      when the Right was doing nothing but swinging.

      ... doing nothing but swinging?  lol  

      Do you know how many points the Right Wing scored in the last 2 and a half years?  

      Let me see...

      extension of the Bush tax cut

      killing the public option

      allowing Wall street to run his economic  policy

      getting sweet deals like more cut backs on social services with the phony debt limit debate

      allowing BP to destroy the environment

      These are just a few, I'm sure there is more. Using your own analogy, if it was a heavyweight bout, they would have stopped it in the second round!

      Face it, Obama is not a leader.  He does not know when it is time to take a stand.  The problem with him, which has so many of us frustrated, is that he compromised with these heartless bastards during a time when a compromise was a detriment to the nation. You don't compromise just for the sake of it or to say that you are a 'reasonable man' while the country is sinking deeper into this economic disaster.  At some point you have to at least stand on principle.

      And the sad part is he knows it!! Obama is a smart man unlike his predecessor. He knows that all these deals he cut with them is wrong and is taking us deeper into more problems.

      He had a golden opportunity and he blew it!! Now he and his team are scrambling to get re-elected like a kid who didn't do his homework all year and is facing a finals exam.  

      •  Let me rephrase... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        "Swinging for the Tea Party rafters."

        Maybe they hit a few for the radicals, but the vast majority of Americans don't support any of those moves. It was obstruction (also unpopular).

        Obama. Didn't. Have. The. Votes. On single payer or repealing Bush tax cuts. On BP...uh...did he cut a deal with BP to allow the Gulf spill to happen (and "destroy the environment")?

        Shutting down the government & allowing the U.S. to default ("sweet deals...with phony debt limit debate")? Not responsible.

        If you don't have the votes to pass a bill, how is that a "golden opportunity"? He could have been an idealist and lost, but what would you all be saying then? Is it better to deal with reality and take what you can (UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE!) or lose?

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