Why isn’t President Obama running harder against Congress?

The president was effective in Tuesday’s debate, but he won only narrowly, even though Mitt Romney revealed an ugly side of himself that fits all the stereotypes about bullying bosses. Everything about the way he handled himself underscored the old “I love firing people” image. When he said “You’ll get your chance in a moment, I’m still speaking” and followed it with “That wasn’t a question, that was a statement”, the nastiness in his tone and manner revealed a disdain that made my skin crawl. For some reason this has not been very effectively examined in the post-debate autopsies–too much about `binders full of women,’ perhaps. But if Saturday Night Live decides to paint Romney as a bully tomorrow night, and does a good job, the election could be over.

Unfortunately for Obama, Romney on at least two occasions punched very effectively on the issue of the economy, repeating a “we don’t have to settle for. . .” phrase that racked up points: “”We don’t have to settle for what we’re going through,” Romney said at one point. “We don’t have to settle for gasoline at four bucks. We don’t have to settle for unemployment at a chronically high level. We don’t have to settle for 47 million people on food stamps. We don’t have to settle for 50 percent of kids coming out of college not able to get work. We don’t have to settle for 23 million people struggling to find a good job.”

How I wish those words had been spoken by the president!

In 1969, when John Lindsa was running for reelection for Mayor of New York, David Garth, the preeminent political guru of his generation, created a TV ad in which Lindsay on the back porch of Gracie Mansion and acknowledged a few of the humdingers that he had been guilty of as mayor–underestimating the difficulties posed by crippling blizzard, making some poor choices during a teachers’ strike. But after admitting those mistakes, he then reviewed some of his accomplished, using after each the line “–and that was no mistake.” Garth successfully used that same approach in campaign for Gov. Hugh Carey, Gov. Brendan Byrne and others.

Obama needs to acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to do, and that he, personally, is frustrated that progress has been made so slowly. And he needs to point a finger at the reasons why. Yes, he deserves a share of the responsibility–not pushing for a larger stimulus, not doing enough to get rid of housing debt. Admitting it will give him greater credibility when he then turns around and blames the recalcitrant Republicans in Congress for stopping his jobs bill, and when he says we can’t afford to let Romney take us back to the bankrupt policies that got us here.

There are a lot of unhappy voters in America today. Obama needs to show them that no one is unhappier than he.

[Cross-posted at JamieMalanowksi.com]

Jamie Malanowski

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.