Time to get off the bus

Just weeks from now President Obama will be back in the room with GOP leaders, those Republicans he paints as pro-pollution and pro-disease, incapable of comprehending large legislative packages and so dimwitted they must tackle his jobs plan several pages at a time. Obama will pivot from hammering a snarky and snide sales pitch for his jobs bill on a campaign bus tour to sitting at the negotiating table, where he will have to rescue a debt deal and avert another credit downgrade. And he will be forced, once again, to strike a compromise on annual spending bills. He will attempt to become presidential again, and he might even tell us the world is watching. Will anyone be listening?

The President Obama who labored to strike a grand bargain with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) just months ago, who was willing to risk his party’s ire to cut into Medicare and Social Security, and who positioned himself as the open-minded, level-headed grown-up is gone. He will turn up again, rest assured, but the phone booth transformations aren’t working anymore. Independent voters have turned against him, he has no credibility with the Republicans he must govern with, and Democrats have concluded their Superman was actually the Wizard of Oz.

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Lobbying the public on his jobs bill wasn’t a bad idea, and polling shows a majority approves of his agenda to jolt the troubled economy and prevent a double-dip recession. Calling the Republicans out for blocking the extension of the temporary payroll tax cut they supported last December was the right thing to do. And cajoling the GOP to join him in backing proposals to put more veterans back to work — a no-brainer. 

But appealing for support, and standing on principle, is different from attacking Republicans with adolescent insults. “My plan says we’re going to put teachers back in the classroom; construction workers back to work rebuilding America, rebuilding our schools, tax cuts for small businesses; tax cuts for hiring veterans; tax cuts if you give your worker a raise. That’s my plan. And then you got their plan, which is let’s have dirtier air, dirtier water. Less people with health insurance. All right so, so far at least, I feel better about my plan,” said the president this week in North Carolina, a state where he has weak support and critics who didn’t rebuff him said they would pray for him. “Maybe they just couldn’t understand the whole bill at once. We’re going to break it up into bite-size pieces.”

Forget that most centrist Democrats in the Senate — many of whom are facing difficult reelection campaigns — won’t vote for several key stimulus provisions in the president’s plan. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) just signed on as the bill’s only co-sponsors. In an effort to consolidate his base and raise fast cash, Obama has risked further alienating swing voters, who tune out rhetoric and wait for results, by choosing to leave Washington and throw bombs rather than trying to get a deal. 

By the time Obama realizes this isn’t the midterm election campaign, it could be too late. The 12-member supercommittee that has until Nov. 23 to complete a debt deal remains mired in disagreement, and the president will have no choice but to get his hands dirty once more. Deadlock on the panel would ripple through global markets as a symbol of America’s decline and the failure of Obama’s leadership. 

One of those super-smart advisers of his who helped get him into this mess should tell Obama it’s time to get off the bus and do his job.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.