The president’s poignant one-two punch

THE PRESIDENT’S POIGNANT ONE-TWO PUNCH…. Watching President Obama’s speech just outside Cleveland yesterday, something seemed a little different.

The president has a habit of going out of his way — perhaps even too far — to give his detractors and opponents the benefit of the doubt. He’ll characterize Republicans — whom he’ll often just call “some in Congress” or “the minority” — as sincere but mistaken. He’ll try to emphasize areas of agreement with his critics, and point to issues where he’d like to see bipartisan support.

Yesterday, however, the president’s speech suggested that, at least for now, he’s tired of unrequited outreach. This was a speech in which Obama talked about Republicans the way Republicans talk about him — only his case had the advantage of being true.

Much has been made of the fact that the president mentioned House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) by name, eight times. That was clearly a departure from the norm, and may have had something to do with Obama speaking in Ohio.

But the larger significance of the speech was the president carefully and thoroughly taking apart Boehner’s party’s discredited economic vision. In the process, Obama presented the electorate with a very clear choice for the short-term and long-term future. The New York Times editorial board argued it took the president “too long to engage this debate.” Perhaps. But there can be little doubt that he’s fighting hard now.

E.J. Dionne Jr. did a nice job describing the context of the White House push.

Until Obama’s Labor Day speech in Milwaukee and his statement of principles Wednesday near Cleveland, it was not clear how much heart he had in the fight or whether he would ever offer a comprehensive argument for the advantage of his party’s approach.

In the absence of a coherent case, Republicans were winning by default on a wave of protest votes. Without this new effort at self-definition, Obama was a blur: a socialist to conservatives, a sellout to some progressives, and a disappointment to younger Americans who wondered what happened to the ebullient, hopeful guy they voted for.

That’s why the Milwaukee-Cleveland one-two punch mattered. The first speech showed Obama could fight and enjoy himself in the process. The second speech spelled out why he has chosen to do battle…. Suddenly, there’s a point to this election. Obama is late to this game, but at least he’s finally playing it.

If you missed it, I think the speech is well worth watching. I have no idea if it’s too late, or if the necessary number of voters are even willing to listen. But if you’ve been waiting for the president to take the fight to the GOP with the passion evident in 2008, wait no more.