Forget the impending emergence of the iPhone 5. I’m captivated by the emergence of Obama 2.0.
While I liked what President Obama tried to do in his original “change the ways of Washington” form, the man we’ve seen since his Sept. 8 address to a joint session of Congress address is much more like it. He hasn’t given up on his agenda. He’s just going about it in a more clear-eyed and resolute way.
Yes, Obama waited too long to get this point. Yes, he focused on the wrong things at times (think health-care reform instead of jobs). But he did try to follow through on his promise to do things differently. He tried hard to work with congressional Republicans. As a gesture of good faith, Obama far too often made concessions to the GOP before getting to the negotiating table. Moves that enraged his base, especially when he got nothing in return. As many have noted, he tried over and over again to be the reasonable guy at the table, the adult in the room. And it got him — and the country — nowhere.
After the Democrats lost control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections, emboldened Republicans blocked Obama at every turn, even on measures the GOP once supported. The heart-stopping fight to raise the debt ceiling — and the inability of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to garner support in his caucus for the “grand bargain” he was cobbling together with the president — marked the end of Obama 1.0.
The soft launch of Obama 2.0 can now be traced back to his Midwest bus tour last month. The president’s rhetoric was sharper. His tone more combative. By the time his address to Congress was over, I knew this time it was different. My concern that Obama’s newfound pugnacity would eventually disappear diminished with each trip to sell the American Jobs Act. A concern that was finally obliterated yesterday in the Rose Garden when he said, “This is not class warfare. It’s math.”
Many aren’t pleased with the deficit-reduction plan Obama presented yesterday. The Post editorial declared it “not big enough.” David Brooks slammed it as “a campaign marker, not a jobs bill.” He added, “This wasn’t a speech to get something done.” Oh, he’d like to get something done. This time, though, he’s making it clear that he will try to do it on his terms. And if he fails, he’s going to make sure the American people know who stood in the way.
During the debt-ceiling drama, Obama did the unthinkable in the eyes of Democrats and progressives. As the editorial notes, part of the “grand bargain” between the president and the speaker included “raising the eligibility age for Medicare and changing the way that Social Security benefits are indexed for inflation.” As the piece also notes, Obama walked away from it in his deficit-reduction plan. Not that I blame him. If the Republicans weren’t going to take yes for an answer last month from a Democratic president willing to hand them what they wanted on entitlement reform in the hope of doing something big, then there’s no need to insist on it now.
Ezra Klein gets at the heart of the Obama change in tone and strategy.
Voters, they learned, aren’t interested in compromises that don’t lead to results. Polls showed that Obama looked like the nice guy, and that kept him personally popular. But he also looked like an ineffectual leader, and that caused his job approval ratings to dip below 40 percent in some polls.
For the first time, the president introduced a piece of legislation that tells Congress exactly what he wants done. For the first time, the president accompanied a major initiative with a veto threat if the supercommittee sends him a plan that cuts entitlements but leaves the rich untouched. For the first time, the president is consistently calling on the American people to help him get Congress moving on jobs and the deficit. And he’s doing it all with a snap in his voice that leaves an unmistakable impression: Obama 2.0 is leaving the nice guy and ineffectual leader behind.