The funniest scene in the old hockey movie “Slap Shot” might be the one where the Hanson brothers start a fight with the other team before the game even starts.
Who knew that could be a parable for President Obama’s reelection campaign?
During the scene in the Paul Newman classic, one of the infamous Hanson brothers punches an opponent while they’re skating during warm-ups. Moments later, both teams are covered in blood and standing at attention for the pre-game “Star-Spangled Banner.”
The Hansons couldn’t wait for the game to start to throw a punch. And so it is with Obama and his teams in the White House and Chicago.
The new refrain from the president of “we can’t wait” ostensibly refers to measures that would spur job creation. More accurately, it reflects the political calculus that if Obama wants to win next year, he can’t wait for the GOP to crown a nominee. He needs to start bruising his opponent now.
Obama and his team have good reason to be impatient.
If next year is a referendum on the economy or president, Obama and his advisers have all at some point acknowledged the president will lose.
It has to be a “choice” election for Obama to win, and neither the White House nor Chicago can wait for Republicans to present their standard-bearer.
In the past few weeks, White House and campaign officials have all but declared Romney the nominee. While the media and Iowa caucusgoers are still waiting out the traditional method of picking a nominee, the president and his team have put Romney in their sights, blasting the former Massachusetts governor in conference calls and background briefings.
And Romney is the second target.
The first phase of Obama’s “we can’t wait” political strategy was his fall offensive against Congress.
Obama’s teams think that phase is working.
In the last week, senior administration officials have mentioned with joy and frequency Congress’s historic-low approval rating of 9 percent.
By going on the road and going on offense, using the thin shield of an ill-fated jobs act, Obama has helped drive down congressional approval.
And while it hasn’t yielded any huge gains for Obama’s own dismal approval rating, this isn’t about making people like Obama.
It’s about making people hate Congress. And soon it will be about making people hate Romney. Or at least fear him.
If Obama can drive down Romney’s numbers the way he has helped drive down Congress’s, the president and his family will likely be spending another four years in the White House.
The first step was key, though. Remember Obama in August?
He was broken. Defeated. The look on his face in the White House briefing room the night the debt-ceiling deal was reached was that of a man who was about to be a one-term president — and was not all that upset by the prospect.
Whether sparked by desperation or genuine disdain for Congress, the calculation was made to hammer Congress to a pulp. By driving down lawmakers’ numbers, Obama found something to stand on from which he can fight a Republican opponent.
Obama was far too weak and bloodied to go into combat against Romney earlier this year. The Democratic base was depressed, furious with Obama and wishing it had a real Democrat to back.
The president had no message. He had completely conceded the terms of the debate on the economy and deficit reduction to the Republicans. In short, Obama looked like he was about to spend a year limping toward defeat.
Now, armed with the jobs act that is going nowhere fast and near-daily “we can’t wait” executive actions, Obama is squarely on offense, even if those unilateral actions aren’t going to create a whole lot of jobs.
He has beaten and bloodied Congress, making fish in a barrel both his target and his pre-game warm-up fight.
Keep in mind, however, that none of the other numbers has changed. Unemployment is still at 9.1 percent, and Obama remains locked in a dogfight with a generic Republican challenger.
The Obama team knows that, and that’s why they aren’t sitting around fighting a generic Republican or holding out hope that the economy miraculously turns around.
They need an enemy with a face, a name and a record of flip-flops. Iowa is still two months away, but campaign and White House officials are already talking a great deal about whether Romney can be trusted.
The summer days of compromise are gone, replaced by the autumn winds of political combat.
The winter will be cold, brutal and long as the president’s team takes its fight from Congress to Romney.
Obama can’t wait.
Youngman is the White House correspondent for The Hill.