President Obama — the centrist, Clintonian version — is rolling.
Just three months removed from a “shellacking” in the midterms that threatened to derail his agenda and hamstring his reelection, Obama is on offense and building momentum.
An ABC/Washington Post poll released Tuesday showed 54 percent approving of Obama’s job performance, while a CNN/Opinion Research poll released Monday showed 53 percent approving of Obama.
Beginning with the lame-duck session and carrying through the early days of the new Congress, Obama has positioned himself at the political center, setting traps for Republicans along the way.
Republicans wanted tax cuts; Obama gave them tax cuts and then some, ending with a package the White House spun as a stimulus for the economy that Democrats wouldn’t have dreamt of passing with Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE (R-Ohio) at the helm.
In the same lame-duck, Congress repealed the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, allowing Obama to keep an important promise to the political left, which has feuded with the West Wing and criticized the tax deal.
The professional left’s criticism has helped Obama position himself at the center faster than most would have guessed. The White House also can lean on the two years it spent laying the groundwork and two months of elbow grease.
The Oval Office game plan was to push for everything they could get during the lame-duck session before handing the microphone to Republicans, whom the White House hopes will overreach just like the last Republican majority that took over Congress in 1995.
In the meantime, Obama’s plan is to tend to foreign affairs and other chief-executive business, while staying somewhat out of the public eye.
It’s no coincidence that Obama has not sat down for an interview in almost two months. The White House wants to let Republicans beat their chests and take their shots at Obama’s healthcare legislation while the president can look presidential and, the White House hopes, attract independent voters.
Then came the Arizona shootings, which pushed Obama to the public forefront along with perhaps the most famous Republican face in the country, Sarah Palin.
Obama gave an emotional speech at a memorial service for the victims of the shootings last week that received positive reviews from the left and right, Rush Limbaugh’s criticism notwithstanding.
Polls show the president receiving high marks from the public, which approved of his call for a more civil political discourse.
Palin, meanwhile, found herself in the middle of a series of controversies that peaked with her attack on the media and pundits for “blood libel.”
While the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate is not a voice for Republicans in the House and Senate, the contrast between Palin and Obama gave a further boost to the White House.
Republicans fueled by anti-government, anti-Obama anger could struggle to make their point in a kindler, gentler political environment, no matter how tenuous the era of good feelings.
That, at least, is what the White House hopes as Republicans move to healthcare repeal on Wednesday.
Obama has also built momentum with his romancing of big business. Everything about the post-midterm Obama White House is designed to look business-friendly.
From hiring Bill Daley as chief of staff to Tuesday’s executive order rooting out “dumb” regulations to a state visit with Chinese President Hu Jintao that will likely be big on contracts for U.S. companies, the new White House is fostering a pro-business outlook that could come in handy during the campaign season.
To close observers and Obama’s liberal critics, the president’s move to the middle looks like a short trip.
In two years, the president has repeatedly shown that he is more interested in results than ideological purity, and he has never hesitated to trade Democratic ideals for passable legislation.
Yet the tactics of the last three months is actually the result of a strategy Obama put in place immediately upon taking office: Pass everything possible in the first two years, and spend the next two defending and promoting what was passed.
To that end, the professional left has been a useful tool to Obama as he tries to paint himself as the picture of centrist political leadership.
For the strategy to keep working — and for Obama to continue flying high — the president needs Republicans to be predictable and unwittingly complicit, just like the left has been. If Republicans return to their red-hot political rhetoric, the White House will be smiling.
By the end of the week, Republicans will have demonstrated whether they see the traps Obama has laid.
Youngman is the White House correspondent for The Hill. Find his column, Obama’s Bid for Reelection, on thehill.com