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Obama as dad-in-chief

at 12:26 PM ET, 07/11/2011


U.S. President Barack Obama makes a point during a news conference on debt negotiations with the U.S. Congress in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, July 11, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Obama took a paternalistic approach toward congressional Republicans in Monday’s press conference, using a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone to urge GOP leaders to get something big done on the country’s debt problems.

“It’s time to pull off the Band-Aid, [to] eat our peas,” Obama told reporters gathered in the White House briefing room for the second press conference in as many weeks focused on the onrushing Aug. 2 deadline to cut a deal on raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

Obama repeatedly emphasized that while both sides were going to have to make difficult political choices to get a debt deal done, those sort of hard decisions were part and parcel of governing. Such a compromise would convince people that “this town can do something every once in a while.”

Boil Obama’s message down and you get this: Adults sometimes have to do things that they don’t want to do. This is one of those times. So, let’s get it done.

Obama has been moving in the paternalistic direction rhetorically for the last few weeks.

At his press conference at the end of last month, Obama compared Republicans unfavorably to his daughters — noting that Malia and Sasha often get their homework done a day or more in advance of its due date. (The Fix, a giant nerd, did the same. Mrs. Fix....less so.)

Obama is quite clearly now using the bully pulpit afforded him by the presidency to cast himself as the adult in the room on the debt ceiling.

One example: He flat-out rejected the idea of a short-term deal — 30, 60, 90 or even 180 days — on the debt ceiling by noting that “this is the United States of America, and we don’t manage our affairs in three-month increments.” (Hard not to hear parental echoes in that line; “That’s not the way we do things in this house....”)

And while Obama avoided taking the sort of direct shots at Republicans that he did during his late June press conference, he still emphasized that adopting a “take your ball and go home” mindset is not acceptable.

“If everybody gets into the boat at the same time, it doesn’t tip over,” Obama said at one point. At another he argued: “American democracy works when people listen to each other.”

Obama’s decision to embrace the dad role is squarely aimed — politically, at least — at independent and moderate voters who ultimately want to feel like the federal government is keeping its eye on the big picture.

The danger in taking that approach is that Obama could be perceived by some as too didactic and preachy. That’s likely the push back that Republicans will offer in the wake of the Obama press conference — that they, not the president, are the ones looking out for the American people and that the “adult vs kids” construct he laid out should, in fact, be reversed.

Obama has a leg up in this fight thanks to his ability to command the attention of the national media whenever he likes. Obama is set on turning this debt fight into a broader argument about what it takes to be a responsible adult. And it’s a fight that could well serve as the main frame of the 2012 presidential campaign.

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