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Obama Trying To Have It Both Ways

President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 20,2011, to discuss the death of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

November 30, 2011

One of President Obama's political weaknesses in his first term has been that he's all-too-willing to avoid making tough decisions, hesitant to expend political capital for potential long-term gain.  Throughout his first term in office, he's had a cautious governing style, and has avoided taking on some of his party's core constituencies.

He delegated the crafting of his health care bill to Congressional leaders, he declined to embrace the deficit-reduction recommendations of his own Bowles-Simpson commission, and most recently, he punted on a long-planned construction of a pipeline to avoid a confrontation with environmentalists.  During the debt ceiling debate, he wanted to be seen as the grown-up in the room - that's politically advantageous - but hardly specified any of the tough budget cuts or entitlement reforms he would have liked - a much tougher political proposition.

On political messaging, too, White House strategists seem all-too-eager to have their cake and eat it too.  The strategy for the summer was to portray Obama as the bipartisan conciliator because that's what they thought independent voters wanted.  When that failed, Obama's now become the populist protector of the working class. It's enough to make your head spin.

Publicly Obama campaign strategists insist they'll be able to win over blue-collar working-class voters and white-collar suburbanites - and won't have to make difficult decisions over which states are more important to contest.   It's part of the philosophy that you can have your cake and eat it too - even in the face of contrary evidence.

So when I was reading this story from Christi Parsons and Peter Nicholas in the Los Angeles Times, I had another sense of déjà vu.  In it, Obama advisers claim the president has gained support over the last month because he avoided engaging with Congress over the super committee budget deliberations. They argued that as he's kept his distance from an unpopular Congress, he's seen his approval inch upwards ever-so-slightly.

But in the same breath, they're arguing that to avoid a perception of "weak leadership," he needs to actively involve himself in preserving a tax break for American workers.  So over the next month, he's going to be pushing for the renewal of the payroll tax cut and extension of unemployment benefits. Heck, he may even ask for a primetime television address on this fresh legislative fight -- if the TV networks allow it.

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