President Obama, for nearly three years, adopted precisely the same style he presented to voters during the 2008 campaign. He expressed a willingness to compromise and meet rivals half-way; Obama gave Republican officials key positions in his administration; he was careful not to overreach in his proposals; and the president generally avoided stinging, partisan rhetoric.
The rewards never materialized. Republicans slapped away Obama’s outstretched hand, and the efforts only served to annoy the president’s base. As Jeff Shesol aptly put it over the summer, “Obama declared war on partisanship in 2008, and partisanship won.”
Left with no choices, the president has adopted a more confrontational posture. He’s blasting Republicans, calling out rivals by name, and positioning himself in the role of Truman running against a do-nothing Congress. The New York Times‘ Mark Lander reports, voters might not like it.
While Mr. Obama’s partisan jabs appeal to his Democratic base, they may turn off independent voters, who flocked to him in 2008 in part because of his carefully cultivated image as a leader who rises above the partisan fray.
Putting aside the question of whether independent voters actually feel that way — or, for that matter, whether independent voters exist as a distinct subset of the population — I’m not sure what Obama’s supposed to do. He’s tried to compromise with Republicans, to no avail. He’s tried to adopt some Republican policies, and that hasn’t worked, either. Obama has made a good-faith effort to bend over backwards to accommodate GOP wishes, and they’ve refused to accept any concessions on any issue. Voters weren’t impressed by the efforts.
So, the president has largely given up on those efforts, only to see a NYT report suggest he’s failing to “rise above the partisan fray” the way he promised.
If that wasn’t quite depressing enough, the same article checked in with some folks at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, N.C., where the president spoke yesterday. Natalie Hopkins, an administrator in the Guilford County school district, said of the president, “We want to stand behind him and support him, but at some point we also want to see forward motion.”
The president, by all appearances, wants to see forward motion, too. The point is, it’s not up to him.