Sometimes it really doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.
Team Obama is banking on it.
And it won’t pass next week or likely even next month.
And the dirty secret inside the White House is that while the jobs plan is what Obama really wants, he can live happily with the alternative — a fall battle that ends with Republicans voting against tax cuts for the middle class.
Because while Obama would love nothing more than another 1.9 million jobs, he feels he can save his own job just by having the fight. And if he gets both the package and the fight over it, then Obama gets another four years at the White House.
If that seems nakedly cynical for a man who promised hope and change, then welcome to the realities of reelection.
After a brutal summer, administration officials are smiling again. They feel they learned the lessons of the debt-ceiling fight, and they think their first move back after August is a win-win for Obama and a classic trap for Republicans.
Administration officials said Tuesday they think Obama has successfully gone on the offensive.
And to a degree he has.
Monday in the Rose Garden, Obama was flanked by first responders, teachers and construction workers. He blasted the politics of Washington and again urged Congress to pass his jobs bill right away.
The appearance provided great optics. What kind of heartless monster would vote to protect corporate jet owners over teachers? Maybe the bill should pass right away.
Then a couple hours later, Jack Lew disclosed why the bill will not pass right away.
Obama would pay for his jobs package, which Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) already had criticized as another stimulus, by raising taxes on the wealthy and businesses. Those demands ensured opposition from the GOP.
The bill is not wholly cynical. Obama really does want to put Americans back to work and spur the economy. It’s a happy coincidence that a lower unemployment rate would help Obama’s reelection hopes.
But what has the White House giddy is not the prospect of 8 percent unemployment, which might be difficult to achieve by next November even with a $447 billion jobs bill.
What the president’s aides want — and what they need — is for independents and Democrats to view Obama as their fighter. And after a summer of polls painting Obama as a weak leader, the president is desperate to be viewed as the one politician in Washington fighting for the middle class.
What’s more, Obama appears ready to fight. For real this time.
His trips to Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina are just the tip of the iceberg.
One senior administration official spoke Tuesday of the president visiting individual congressional districts to pressure members as he did at the end of the healthcare debate.
Make no mistake, for a White House 14 months away from Election Day, that suggests a combat posture.
White House officials believe the debt-ceiling debate changed everything. When Obama went for the grand bargain, they think Americans tuned in and got on his side.
When the deal came up short, voters blamed everyone. But administration officials looked at the polls and came away thinking that Americans will ultimately rally around what Obama was and he is trying to do.
Inside the White House, they firmly believe that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) got the same message over August.
Officials point to the cautiously conciliatory tone with which the Republican leaders responded to the jobs bill.
Obama’s aides believe that ultimately, Boehner will defend his Speakership and his majority to the hilt, even if that means going against whomever emerges from the Republican presidential race and handing Obama a victory.
If Republicans do nothing, Obama wins. If they do something, Obama wins. And if they do a little, Obama gets to keep the debate alive, putting miles on Air Force One and devoting his fall and winter to painting Republicans as beholden to special interests over jobs.
Ignore the fact that Obama couldn’t limit itemized tax deductions for the rich when he had Democratic majorities. And seriously ignore the fact that the jobs bill, in its current form, is not going to pass right away.
Those are inconvenient truths that will in no way derail the Obama offensive. After all, anybody pointing out these facts is playing political games and clearly not interested in creating jobs.
So while it’s not exactly the inspiring politics of hope, it’s pretty good politics all the same. And it’s the first reason Democrats have had in a long time to believe their man can prevail next November.
This is the campaign.
For the rest of 2011, at least, Obama and his team will speak of little else. This is the debate they want to have, and they are betting the president’s job on their belief they can win this debate.
Ultimately, more jobs would be a bonus.
Youngman is the White House correspondent for The Hill.