The emergence of this more pugnacious Obama has heartened Democrats, especially the most liberal ones, who spent the past few months dejected by what they saw as the president’s unwillingness to engage his opponents in political combat.
“We don’t see it as confrontation; we see it as leadership,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union. “We see the president exerting strong leadership to make the case to the country that everything we had to listen to during the debt debate was wrong.”
The president’s problems, even within his own party, remain formidable; only 58 percent of Democrats in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll believe that he will be reelected. Many supporters remain skeptical of his tendency to seek compromise with Republicans, and recently he angered some black supporters by urging them to stop complaining.
Still, in recent weeks, Obama has begun to blunt some of the criticism among Democrats that he is not up for the fight.
“The guy is mad,” said Peter Fenn, a longtime Democratic strategist. “I’d be mad, too. We went four months on the debt-ceiling nonsense. What positive result came of that? Zip.”
The new attack strategy is rooted in the political reality that Obama is 13 months from Election Day and faces a tough road. The poll shows that 61 percent of Americans disapprove of the way he is handling the economy.
Indeed, the only good news for Obama relates to his jobs plan and his Republican opposition. An even higher percentage of poll respondents, about 76 percent, say they disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are handling the economy. Given that dubious advantage, the president may have few options other than to attack.
Obama used a Labor Day speech in Detroit to launch his new offensive against the GOP opposition. With him on Air Force One that day was Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who gave Obama the text of a rousing speech delivered by Harry S. Truman on Labor Day 1948, also in Detroit. Truman was another deeply unpopular Democratic president in the midst of an economic recession; he won another term in 1948 by attacking the Republicans, earning the nickname “Give ’Em Hell Harry.”
A month later, other parallels are emerging. Facing sharp criticism from Democrats who say he capitulated to Republicans during the summer’s acrimonious debt-ceiling negotiations, Obama has embarked on a nationwide barnstorming tour to promote his plan to create jobs and try to reverse his ebbing political fortunes.