Obama’s standing has been further challenged by a string of recent events that are testing his presidential mettle: the first-ever credit downgrade of the U.S. government by the Standard & Poor’s rating agency on Friday night, a helicopter crash in Afghanistan that same night that killed 22 Navy SEALs and eight other service members, and a topsy-turvy stock market once again prompting fears of a double-dip recession.
“The president has shown himself unwilling to just dig in on a position,” said Dee Dee Myers, who was Bill Clinton’s White House press secretary. “He’s for jobs. I’ve heard him say that. He’s for being the grown-up in the room. But beyond that, I’m not actually sure what his bottom line is.”
Polling indicates that Republicans are taking the brunt of the blame for bringing the country to the brink of default, but the president has come out of that fight looking weaker, as well. Recent polls have shown Obama’s job approval at or near the lowest of his presidency — and the public’s view of how he is handling the economy is lower still.
As a result, more Democrats are saying it is time for him to scrap his more cautious, conciliatory approach and advocate bolder programs that would generate jobs and economic growth, even though many of those ideas would have no chance of passing Congress.
“The market has called us out, and you have to rethink under these circumstances,” said Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union and a close White House ally.
Of the relatively modest initiatives that the White House is currently advocating, Stern added: “Patent reform, trade, unemployment insurance, cutting taxes — that doesn’t generate the jobs we need.”
Added Neera Tanden, a former Obama and Clinton administration official who is now chief operating officer at the liberal Center for American Progress: “He can take his ideas to the Republicans and use the House Republicans’ intransigence on his ideas as a foil. And by having a fight on jobs, he will communicate to the American people that he understands their challenges and he’s on their side.”
Peter Fenn, a longtime Democratic strategist, said the even-keeled president has “got to be a lot less keep-it-cool Calvin Coolidge and a lot more give-’em-hell Harry Truman.”
“There has got to be a willingness to get tough with the Republicans, especially the tea party wing,” Fenn said.