Obama 2.0: Coming Out Swinging Against Liberal Critics

Was this a one-off thing or a sign of a new strategy?

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President Obama held a press conference at the White House Tuesday afternoon ostensibly to discuss the new tax compromise, a subject that took a backseat to the unveiling of Obama's fiery new, post-midterm public persona. The GOP took the requisite hits, but Obama saved his fiercest comments for the "sanctimonious" left-wing of his own party, which is not happy with him right now. A sampling of his remarks:

Considering this segment of the party once was part of Obama's base, the reversal was noteworthy. So, how will Obama the centrist play with voters? A sampling of theories from around the web.

  • Starting Over  Time's Michael Crowley says Obama put Americans on notice that he is in Washington to get things done, not fight the good fight for pet progressive policies. By "positioning himself as the grownup and protector of the public in a room full of squabbling partisans" Obama hopes to rebuild the coalition of independent voters that supported him in 2008. Yes, he was rough on the base, but Crowley "doubts that Obama regrets showing a little stream." The White House has already decided its best chance to win reelection is by "winning back disaffected independent voters, not by rallying the Democratic base." Crowley predicts more of this over the next two years as the president pursues an agenda that is "likely to be more Clinton and less Truman."
  • New Approach  This was unlike any Barack Obama press conference in memory, observes The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. His fiery defense of pragmatism and good government was a "true rarity for Obama: the president as populist--and an angry one at that."
  • In It To Win It  At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum makes the case that Obama's harsh critique of the left, far from being a one-time event brought on by months of relentless grousing on liberal blogs, represents a genuine evolution in the president's political philosophy. The progressive base that fueled his run primary campaign showed no inclination towards (or sympathy for) pragmatic decision, thus forcing Obama's "precisely calculated" repudiation. "Obama," argues Drum, "is convinced that Democrats lost in November because of defections from independents, not liberals, so he's trying to do everything he can to distance himself from the left and win back the center." He points out such a maneuver is not without precedent. "After all, we've seen this movie before in 1994."
  • Clarity  Obama's much-discussed "messaging" problem was nowhere to be found yesterday. Instead, writes Slate's John Dickerson, the president described his governing philosophy in clear and forceful terms. "Obama is a pragmatist," says Dickerson, "just as he and his aides claimed when he came into office. This is why the charge that Obama is a socialist was always so silly. What causes him genuine irritation? Not the thwarting of his secret utopian dreams, but the inability to get a bipartisan compromise."
  • Still Unclear  The Atlantic's Clive Crook says Obama's new persona is still in need of fine-tuning. By simultaneously claiming compromise is the only way things get done and claimin that he had to cut a deal on extending the tax cuts because the GOP refused to compromise, Obama offered "not one but two rationales for what he has done--rationales that are at least in tension and in the end, I think, irreconcilable." Obama has been "vacillating between [whether to present himself as a centrist of progressive] since 2008," but the problem is these are two very different political approaches. Eventually "the man is going to have to make up his mind" and commit to one or the another full-time. "He cannot please both the progressive wing of his party and the middle of the electorate," notes Crook, "though he can easily disappoint both."
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