JONATHAN COHN JANUARY 26, 2011
You could make a good case that President Obama's first two years were a policy success and a political failure. The Recovery Act and the auto industry rescue probably saved the economy from catastrophe and, along the way, promoted investments that should make America a more productive, prosperous country. Financial reform will restrain Wall Street at least a little bit while giving consumers new protections. The Affordable Care Act will make affordable, quality insurance available to nearly all Americans while starting to reengineer our bloated, inefficient medical care system.
But none of these measures are particularly popular and most arouse more suspicion than enthusiasm. And Obama's efforts to sell these programs don't seem to be helping.
Time's Michael Grunwald suggests that's why Obama is trying to put those debates behind him, as he largely did in last night's State of the Union. And Grunwald thinks the new strategy might just work:
At times in his presidency, most elaborately in the "New Foundation" speech, Obama has challenged these attacks, explaining how the deficit exploded before he reached the White House, how GOP tax cuts created far more debt than the stimulus ever did, how joblessness and the deficit would both be much worse without that "failed stimulus." Last night, he didn't really bother.
Apparently, Obama has moved past the debates of last year. Politically, at least, he lost them. He isn't renouncing any of his core beliefs or legislative accomplishments, but he isn't asking for a rematch, either.
This rope-a-dope is sure to frustrate progressives who are still spoiling for a fight. They're angry about Obama's recent compromise to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and they don't understand why he's so solicitous of opponents who have opposed all his initiatives in lockstep, who seem to define bipartisanship as Democrats doing their bidding.
But Obama's approval ratings have been rising ever since he acknowledged his "shellacking" in November. He keeps signaling to the public that he's reaching out to Republicans, even though he's still pushing policies they've been denouncing for two years. It wasn't his choice to swim upstream — the midterm voters made that call — but evidently he's got something in common with those salmon. He gets even more complicated when he's been smoked.