The new, improved, tougher Barack Obama

There’s a really interesting post on Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog in the Washington Post today.

As Congress moves toward extending the payroll tax cut for the rest of this year — a remarkable retreat or return to sanity by a Republican caucus that has lived to obstruct — Klein wonders whether this might be the start of a retrenchment of sorts by Republicans who wish to avoid getting whupped in the fall election.  The parallel would be to 1996, when the Republican Congress of Newt Gingrich suddenly started to cooperate with Bill Clinton after efforts to block him at every turn began to hurt their image.

Here is Klein:

“Most experts expected things to get even worse in 1996. Then, a few things happened to change that outcome. Bill Clinton, the Democratic president, regained his footing, sharpened his message for re-election and was buoyed by improving economic news. Congress grew less popular as voters became dissatisfied with the lack of progress and obstructionism. There were mounting signs of another tidal wave election, this one to sweep out the new Republican members who had been seated in the previous election. As 1996 unfolded, the party lost enthusiasm for its lackluster emerging nominee, Bob Dole.”

“The result: Gingrich and fellow Republican leaders in Congress decided to work with Clinton to pass a raft of important legislation…”

Other than the last sentence, this certainly sounds eerily parallel to the state of things right now.  It seems nearly everyone in Washington — right, left and center — suffered from and through the end-of-the-year debacle in which the last-minute extension of the debt ceiling barely saved the United States from default. But Barack Obama looked particularly bad as he tripped over himself trying to reach a compromise with House Speaker John Boehner, a compromise the Republicans eventually scuttled though it would have given them about 80 percent of what they wanted.

Today, Obama has found, or perhaps heard, the voice of the people telling him to stand up.  He is calling for higher taxes on the wealthy and a commitment to rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure. He’s benefitting from more job creation and a slightly lower unemployment rate. His poll numbers are up. And he’s watching as the Republican presidential contenders carry on like the Punch ‘n Judy show, flooding the airwaves with nasty attack ads and changing their records at will (or maybe I’m just projecting Mitt Romney’s severely distorted assertion that he was a “severely conservative” governor).

In short, Barack Obama is no longer making nice. No longer saying, “I’m sure we can work together.”  No longer handing a half loaf to Republicans in negotiations before he’s gotten the promise of anything in return.

In standing strong, Obama is calling the Congressional Republicans’ bluff. And there are signs that they’ve either found common sense or, more likely, that, as bullies do, seen their knees buckle a bit at the push back.

Either way, the beneficiary could prove to be the public.

No. The payroll tax extension and unemployment insurance extension alone do not provide anything close to a cure-all for our still very weak economy. But they might at least keep the country from imploding in on itself again.

And whether it’s because Congressional Republicans have found Jesus, reason or fear, it is good to see the them vote for anything again without the kind of brinkmanship that leaves today’s Congress with substantially lower positive numbers than Richard Nixon had at the height of the Watergate hearings.

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About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at www.jerrylanson.com. My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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