Does Obama Need An Enforcer?

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Could it be that the White House needs to watch more hockey and less boxing?

Boxing terms have been mostly used to describe President Obama's tactics in dealing with punches from the right: "rope-a-dope" and "counterpunching" namely. But reading a Washington Post report that said the administration has mostly tried to get above conflict reveals that they're treating Obama like a hockey center instead of a heavyweight.

Centers use their skating abilities to weave around opponents and through defenses to score points. Obama's political acumen has been seen as similarly effective in getting through media noise and past conservative opposition to pass his agenda. But even Obama's team realizes its most valuable player has been getting hit too much.

When hockey centers get hit, hockey teams hire enforcers: guys who check and fight the other teams' goons. They rarely try to score points and don't care how many minutes they spend in the penalty box. The presidential version of hockey enforcers have been vice presidents: Spiro Agnew, Walter Mondale, Dick Cheney, and maybe Al Gore.

They usually launch the hardest attacks to save the president from looking bad. The fear of Obama constantly slamming his opponents, especially those of lower stature than him, is that it will ruin his standing and reduce his ability to persuade the public (and Congress) to pass his agenda. So too with hockey centers who cannot risk being injured in a fight and forego chances to score. Instead they let enforcers punish misdeeds against them so the entire team can win the game.

Maybe the White House needs to consider putting its version of enforcers on the ice to hammer conservatives. Can Joe Biden drop his gloves? Should Rahm Emanuel take off his helmet? Can Robert Gibbs learn to skate? Obama might be the political version of Wayne Gretzky: a once-a-generation talent. But even Gretzky had enforcers to protect himself on the way to historic accomplishments.

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Justin Miller was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 to 2011. He is now the homepage editor at New York magazine. More

Justin Miller was a associate editor at The Atlantic. Previously he was an assistant editor at RealClearPolitics, a political reporter in Ohio, and a freelance journalist.
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