by Jules Witcover

After nearly 20 months of offering to do business with the Republicans, President Obama has finally decided it's time to pay hardball -- in his fashion.

In his speech in Cleveland recently, Obama unequivocally played the old Democratic card: painting the opposition party as the tool and protector of the rich, and calling for ending the tax cuts delivered to them by the previous Republican president.

Here's how he descried the GOP philosophy:

"Cut taxes, especially for millionaires and billionaires. Cut regulations for special interests. Cut trade deals even if they didn't benefit our workers. Cut back on investments in our people and in our future. ... The idea was that if we had blind faith in the market; if we let corporations play by their own rules; if we left everyone else to fend for themselves, America would grow and prosper."

It was classical broad-brush indictment of the Republican mantra, aimed squarely at the middle-class electorate that helped Obama win the presidency and that he now must rally to avoid possible loss of Congress in November.

Of his proposal to end the Bush tax cuts for the rich, he went on:

"With all the Republicans' talk about wanting to shrink the deficit, they would have us borrow $700 billion over the next 10 years to give a tax cut of about $100,000 to folks who are already millionaires. They are among the only folks who saw their incomes rise when Republicans were in charge."

This was the Democratic president preaching his own party's gospel rather than reaching out the hand of bipartisanship that marked his first 20 months in office -- to the annoyance and chagrin of traditional Democrats who wanted more of a fighter in the White House.

At the same time, however, Obama sweetened his harsh partisan message with some further gestures toward the Republicans: more business tax credits for research and development and full tax write-offs for new equipment and other investments.

So for all his tough talk, here was the old Obama still sugar-coating it with proposals designed to entice Republicans' support -- or at least leave the impression of willingness to work with them. Nevertheless, he was vigorously taking on the opposition in political combat mode, to arouse the faithful to the enthusiasm of 2008, now seriously waning.

In this effort, the president is taking two major tacks, neither of them particularly promising so far. The first is reminding voters how the continuing economic challenge developed and under whose leadership. This essentially is the tactic of blaming George W. Bush, which the Republicans have effectively countered by noting that Obama is the president now and the buck stops at his desk.

The other approach is arguing that his own actions to halt the economic slide and generate recovery are working, but require more time to achieve their objectives. This task is hampered by lack of sufficient tangible evidence of progress in the face of the national unemployment rate of 9.6 percent.

Then there is the problem of growing public impatience toward the pace of recovery and unwillingness to give the Obama efforts more time and benefit of the doubt, as tea party critics and others including public-opinion polls all pile on.

Obama in his Cleveland speech acknowledged that "progress has been painfully slow. ... The middle class is still treading water, while those aspiring to reach the middle class are doing everything they can to keep from drowning. ... I also understand that in a political campaign, the easiest thing for the other side to do is to ride this fear and anger all the way to Election Day."

In this vein, Obama personally took on House Minority Leader John Boehner for offering nothing new:

"There was just the same philosophy we already tried for the last decade ... that led to this mess in the first place. ... It's still fear versus hope; the past versus the future. It's still a choice between sliding backward and moving forward. That's what this election is about."

Others, however, will say what it's about is the present, and that's Obama's dilemma as the recovery he has promised merely limps along.


Available at

Presimetrics: What the Facts Tell Us About How the Presidents Measure Up On the Issues We Care About

The Feminine Mystique

The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy

The Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics

Bush on the Home Front: Domestic Policy Triumphs and Setbacks

The Political Fix: Changing the Game of American Democracy, from the Grassroots to the White House


Receive our political analysis by email by subscribing here

Obama Targets Bush's Tax Cuts for the Rich | Politics

© iHaveNet