The re-introduction of Barack Obama

at 06:30 AM ET, 03/15/2012

Meet Barack Obama. Again.

A 17-minute documentary — produced by Davis Guggenheim — detailing the president’s first term in office will be released today, a high-profile attempt to shape (or re-shape) the narrative of Obama’s first term in office.


U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference with David Cameron, U.K. prime minister, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“The film captures the enormity of the challenges, the difficulty of the decisions, and the progress that we’re making,” said Jim Margolis, Obama’s media consultant, who was involved at the margins of the documentary. “In short, it provides context (reminding people what we’ve been through), character (how the president approaches these staggering problems) and accomplishments (of which there are many).”

The documentary is the leading edge of an attempt by the Obama campaign to push back against the idea, forwarded by Republicans, that while the incumbent is a gifted campaigner, he has been nothing short of a disaster while in office.

That fight for what Obama’s first term means is at the core of his chances for a second term. Basically all elections in which an incumbent is seeking reelection revolve around a simple question: Are you better off than you were four years ago? And the only way to answer that question is to look back at what the incumbent has done.

For Obama, many of his signature accomplishments — health care, economic stimulus — have found mixed support with the American public.

The health care law, for example, was viewed favorably by 41 percent of Americans and unfavorably by 40 percent in a March Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll— numbers that have changed little over the past year. Among electorally critical independents, 42 percent view the law favorably, while 40 percent see it in an unfavorable light.

The polling is similar on the stimulus package passed shortly after Obama came into office. A recent Pew poll showed 37 percent favored it, while 41 percent opposed.

Those divisions make seizing control of the narrative about the relative successes (or failures) of Obama's first term that much more important. While partisans on both sides have made up their minds about whether Obama has been a good president, there remains a group of voters who are on the fence, waiting to make up their minds on what the last three years have meant to them.

And with the Supreme Court set to take up a challenge to the health care bill, that particular part of Obama’s legacy is about to be re-litigated.

The goal of the Guggenheim movie — as well as things like the progress report on Obama’s energy plan that the White House released earlier this week — is to show that, while Obama has faced extreme challenges during his first term, he has also produced measurable results that voters may not be aware of.

The fight for what Obama’s presidency has meant begins in earnest today. In November, will he be the principled pragmatist who did the best he could in the face of the worst economic collapse in modern times? Or the ineffectual ideologue pursuing a narrow, partisan agenda at the cost of the average American?

Will Ron Paul cut a deal with Mitt Romney?: That’s what Time’s Alex Altman is suggesting.

The idea that Paul might strike a bargain with Romney has been tossed around for a while now, owing to the fact that Paul has largely held his fire when it comes to the former Massachusetts governor — and also to the idea that Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), is seen as an up-and-comer.

“Even as they tamp down rumors of a pact, Paul’s advisers concede that the friendship between Paul and Romney is the initial step toward a deal,” Altman reports. “And behind the scenes, discussions between the two campaigns — as well as initial discussions with the Santorum and Gingrich camps, according to one Paul adviser — are slowly taking shape.”

The idea makes sense, both because Paul is an extreme longshot for the nomination and because the GOP would really like his independent-minded supporters to vote Republican in the general election, which is very much an open question.

At the same time, Paul doesn’t exactly wield huge clout at the convention; he has garnered just 48 delegates, according to AP projections. Paul’s focus on caucus states may actually yield more than that in the end, but he’s a distant fourth in the delegate count and has lost steam in the presidential race of late.

Top Paul aide Jesse Benton dismissed the report but confirmed conversations with all three campaigns.

“As the article reports, we have talked with all three rival campaigns, usually at their request, at a variety of levels and generally about convention activity,” Benton told The Fix. “A brokered convention is now our stated goal, and winning the nomination for Dr. Paul will require extensive politicking. Anything past that is just innuendo.”

Fun fact: Altman reports Paul has spent more than $30 per vote so far, a staggering sum that leads all Republicans in the race.

Biden to target the GOP: Vice President Biden speaks to the United Autoworkers Local 12 in Toledo, Ohio, today, and he’s using the occasion to go after Republicans.

“Stated simply: We’re about promoting the private sector. They’re about protecting the privileged sector,” Biden will say, according to advance excerpts provided to The Fix. “We’re a fair shot, and a fair shake. They’re about no rules, no risk. And no accountability.”

Biden also plans to defend the president’s auto bailout.

“He knew rescuing the industry wasn’t popular. He knew he was taking a chance. But he believed,” Biden will say. “We all want a president with the courage of his convictions. Well folks, we have one. He made the tough call. And the verdict is in: President Obama was right and his critics were dead wrong.”

The remarks follow in a long line of populist rhetoric from the Obama campaign, setting the stage for the general election.

Fixbits:

Romney gets feisty in a Fox News interview.

Rick Santorum says Puerto Rico needs to make English its official language if it wants statehood, even though English isn’t the official language of the United States.

Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz looks at Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s (D-Ill.) primary fight with former congresswoman Debbie Halvorson.

The Chris Christie story: coming soon.

Public Policy Polling (an automated, left-leaning pollster) finds former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory (R) with a big early lead in the North Carolina governor’s race.

The same pollster finds the GOP fighting uphill against Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

Must-reads:

A Republican Against the Tide” — Davis Weigel, Slate

How Mitt Romney lost Latinos” — Glenn Thrush, Politico

Why Is Santorum Overperforming His Poll Numbers?” — Nate Silver, New York Times

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