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Obama: "We extend a hand and get a fist in return."
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/ ... 8966.shtml
CBS News wrote:
Analysis: Obama's Carrot-and-stick Approach To Republicans Is A Dangerous Political Gambit
(AP) WASHINGTON (AP) - Slapping Republicans with one hand, extending olive branches with the other, President Barack Obama is playing a dangerous political game.
It's not a new one.
And it just might work.
Fearful of losses in the November congressional and gubernatorial elections, Democrats have been urging Obama to help them stay competitive by throwing tougher punches at Republicans. Those calls grew louder after the Democrats' stunning loss two weeks ago of a Senate seat in Massachusetts, seen as an indictment of Democratic control over Congress and the White House and a potentially disturbing bellwether for the fall voting.
Obama is complying, day after day.
Since last Wednesday's State of the Union address, the president has held two campaign-style town hall meetings, including one Tuesday in New Hampshire, where two House races and a Senate seat are in play this year. He used both events to call out Republicans for opposing him on health care, federal spending and other issues. He also spoke at a meeting last week of House Republican lawmakers, where each side aired complaints against the other, sometimes sharply, and then appeared before Senate Democrats on Wednesday.
"We have led," he said of his party. But of Republicans, he said this: "We extend a hand and get a fist in return."
Even if his newly combative approach notches the president some rhetorical wins, though, he risks alienating people at the same time.
As a candidate, Obama built a winning brand as a change agent, a politician above politics. That outsider, reformer image, while attractive particularly to all-important independent voters, is difficult for any politician to maintain once the messy obligations and barriers of governing take over. It is even easier to lose once the bare-knuckled zingers start flying.
What's more, Obama's sharper tone comes at a time of deepening voter ire about Washington's politics of division and inability to solve pressing problems.
"That's the rub," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, acknowledging that the White House knows it risks losing as much as, perhaps more than, it gains.
Sensing opportunity, Republicans are taking note. Countering Obama's portrayal of himself as above the political fray, the Republican National Committee sent out a video of what it called the president's "perpetual campaigning" of late.
So the White House is treading carefully.
As the president turns up the heat on the GOP, he will continue to reach out too, asking Republicans to engage seriously in negotiations on legislation and regularly defining areas - such as offshore drilling, nuclear power, clean-coal production, education reforms and deficit reduction - where cooperation may be possible. This serves two purposes: showing himself the willing conciliator and putting Republicans on the spot.
On Tuesday in New Hampshire, as he has done almost daily of late, Obama made a play for bipartisanship. "Democrats can't do this alone - nor should we," he said.
While he spoke there, the White House also releasing a letter from Obama to U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue asking for support from the leading business lobby - often a chief opponent of Obama's - for his jobs proposals.
Then on Wednesday, Obama invited members of Congress from both parties to a White House meeting next week, following through on his State of the Union promise to meet regularly with Republican and Democratic leaders. Some Republicans also are asked to the White House this Sunday for Super Bowl-watching with Obama.
All these outreach efforts and pleas for cooperation are actually the flip side of one of the main lines of criticism Obama is lobbing at Republicans: They, too, even as the minority party in Congress, and especially now with the new power the Massachusetts election afforded them, must share the burden of governing and accountability from voters if the nation's ills go unsolved. Specifically, Obama is frequently taking Republicans to task for switching positions on important issues recently just to score points with voters.
For instance, he says some of those who opposed last year's $787 billion economic stimulus package and who continue to argue that it isn't creating or saving jobs haven't shied away from taking credit back home for projects the legislation paid for. "They've found a way to have their cake and vote against it too," Obama said in New Hampshire, as usual naming no one in particular.
He also criticized Republicans for opposing a bill to create a bipartisan commission on reducing the deficit - including seven GOP senators who once co-sponsored the bill.
"You can't walk away from your responsibilities to confront the challenges facing this country because you think it's good short-term politics," he warned.
The language in New Hampshire was the sharpest he's unleashed yet.
And he's not done.
As Obama seeks to right his presidency and his agenda amid falling poll numbers and ballot box losses, he and his advisers have concluded that the gloves must come off more often. Hence the tough talk in Wednesday's session with Senate Democrats, and more that's planned in the coming weeks, a senior administration official said.
The idea is to stop allowing Republicans to define the White House through their nearly unanimous opposition to Obama's proposals and to start using them as a foil to better define Democrats, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe private White House planning.
Obama also plans another line of criticism: Draw clearer contrasts between the Democratic and Republican approaches to the nation's problems. As Gibbs said, "You may not be sold completely on what we've been doing but look at the alternative."
Obama won't be the first president to engage in this political brinksmanship, portraying himself as a reasonable type willing to give while painting the other side as obstructionist and petty.
And, much as voters tell pollsters they're not fooled by the contradictory messages and love Mr. Nice Guy best, Election Day results often don't bear that out.
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