Obama’s positioning for spending fights benefits from careful planning, but unforeseen events play major role

President Obama this month has sustained the momentum he gained in December by playing the role of political strategist, world leader and, in the last week, the nation’s healer.

He’s avoided engaging Republicans in debate over the difficult choices ahead, allowing the opposition to come under pressure and preserving himself for the State of the Union Address on Jan. 25.

The chess moves began the day after Obama returned from a two-week vacation in Hawaii. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced he was leaving the day Republicans took control of the House.

The following day, Obama announced the arrival of a new White House chief of staff: Bill Daley, a centrist Democrat and CEO.

The changes appeared somewhat unscripted, but the White House had been some time in planning them. The effect of the timing was to keep Republicans from dominating the news cycle at a time when they expected to get their best, and easiest, coverage.

But the changes also kept the White House press corps from pressing the administration on the kinds of questions that Republicans began facing immediately after the New Year, such as what spending they intended to cut, and what they planned to do about the nation’s deficit and debt.

The personnel moves positioned Obama in the eyes of politicos as a political force, already maneuvering to set up his reelection team for the 2012 campaign. And in the eyes of the general public, the hiring of Daley moved him closer to the center.

Besides that, the White House successfully kept its head down, leaving Obama to assume his role as world leader. Prior to Saturday’s shooting in Arizona, this week was set to be a contrast between House Republicans holding a symbolic but toothless vote to repeal the president’s health-care law, and Obama hosting a series of heads of state for visits.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy came Monday, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri visited on Wednesday, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is set to arrive Friday.

Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Afghanistan and Iraq this week.

Then Chinese President Hu Jintao is set to come next Wednesday to the White House for a highly anticipated state visit.

The White House, and congressional Democrats, were prepared to start hearkening back to Obama’s words on Air Force One en route back to Washington about the new GOP majority: “They are going to play to their base for a certain period of time, but I’m pretty confident that they’re going to recognize that our job is to govern.”

Once through next week, Washington’s attention would turn to the upcoming State of the Union speech, and the White House could begin playing the expectations game without really saying much about the contents of the address.

But then a 22-year old gunman shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others outside a Tucson super market, nearly killing the Democratic congresswoman and taking the lives of six others who were there to meet their representative on a Saturday morning.

The incident – as horrific and as unwelcome as it was – has had some political impact. One of the biggest is that it pushed the president forward into a difficult but broadly appealing role of national unifier.

Obama’s speech Wednesday in Tucson was widely acclaimed by conservatives as a master stroke, a moment of true political leadership. The president’s approval rating became higher than his disapproval rating this week for the first time since July, standing at 49 percent in favor and 46 percent against, according to the Real Clear Politics poll average.

The White House on Thursday was clearly viewing the speech as a potentially seminal moment for the nation, and by extension for Obama’s presidency.

“I think there are moments in our history — Oklahoma City, the Challenger accident, what happened in Arizona — that are important for the president to talk to the nation about, and to help be part of the process of celebration and healing. I think that’s how he approached – that’s how he approached this,” Gibbs told reporters.

Conservatives, when asked about the turn of events, downplayed the impact it will have on the inevitable showdowns between the president and Republicans over spending cuts, raising the debt limit and reforming entitlements. These are all things that have to happen to one degree or another. But each side has different visions for what those actions will look like.

Like the president, Republicans in Congress have attempted to make it through this prelude period in January without putting much skin in the game. They have tried to do this by subsisting mostly on the pomp of a new Congress and by putting forward a few PR-savvy measures, such as cutting congressional office budgets.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, attempted to put some of the pressure for fiscal decisions on the president.

“Once we get to the State of the Union, I can tell you, I expect this president to put some action behind the words that he has been using. Number one, I am looking to see some significant spending cuts proposed by the president that we can work on together,” Cantor said the day before the GOP took control of the House.

But it is clear that Obama has been more successful so far than Republicans — who suffered a series of gaffes their first week before the Arizona shooting — in positioning himself for battles ahead.

E-mail Jon Ward and follow him on Twitter

  • oldguy5

    It amazes me how easily the people in the USA are led around by the nose. Nothing any politician does matters except what is said about him leading up to an election.

    I for one will never vote for Odumbo. This man has spit in the face of ewvery American and yet they come back for more. He goes around the world apologizing, rams heathcare up your azz, creates no jobs, signs business restrictions, favors unions by exempting them from everything, signs a START treaty and because he gives one semi-good speech to dead people you folks all of a sudden adore him again.


    What do you think this ego maniac will do to this country if he gets re-elected and he now has only 4 years to creater this great nation? What do you think happens if he gets re-elected and he has another democratic congress like he had his first 2 years in office? Illegals legalized, business leaving the US causing more unemployment, more restrictions on what you can eat, drink or think? THINK PEOPLE, ITS YOUR AND YOUR CHILDRENS FUTURE. You want them free or subsisting on government.

    Maybe the progressives are right, the American people are just a bunch of non-thinkng zombies. They have controlled the blacks for years, now its time to control the rest of us I guess. This will happen as long as Americans sleep walk through their lives.

    • craigiri

      Obama is headed toward the top 1/3 or 1/4 of US Presidents in history. I say that as a historian, not as a partisan. GW came in the bottom 10%.

      From a historical viewpoint – there is almost nothing that Obama could do which would make him even in the same Bush League as your heros President Cheney and his sidekick boy george.

      Sure, you can rewrite history….lot of people hate Lincoln and even George Washington. But history will be here long after both of us old guys are toast.

  • riseabove

    I didn’t think he even had any momentum after the beating Democrats took in November. Seems to me he was lobbed off at the knees. Political strategist? He sits on the shoulders of others. Nation’s healer? We’re still bleeding. Brilliant? Far too generous. World leader? He still doesn’t represent the majority of Americans.

  • Jubelo

    Yes it was a good speech, but I would say it was a set-up! Obama allowed his henchmen to create a climate of hate for several days, even called and met his Arizona thug Dupnik, branding the memorial service (TOGETHER WE THRIVE…) complete with free t-shirts, lined-up speeches of JNap and Holder complete with cheering and stomping as the names of the murdered were called, then the One came, above the fray created by his operatives, complete with the drama of saying Gabby Giffords opened her eyes right after his visit. WOW! It was a campaign set-up, and in fact I was so angry I threw up that night, my body was still shaking the following day; I will stand up and denounce this charade if one of those murdered was my relative – a shameless act !

    • adair

      I still believe Gabby opened her eyes to be sure the Obamas had left the room. Then, with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in there, no doubt braying on and on as she does in every TV interview, Gabby was likely trying to blink Morse code: G-e-t h-e-r o-u-t o-f h-e-r-e!

    • theprofessor

      You will be interested in this : http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/32138

  • russ311

    Yes, Obama gave a speech we can all nod to with approval. So he’s what then, 1 for maybe 10 recently? Does it really mean he’s finally turned the proverbial “corner?” Are your readers supposed to accept now that Obama has hurdled the fence separating the political sides of rancorous discourse? Are we to reflexively only respond positively to Obama’s plaint for peace and brotherhood in further discourse on the country’s politics? Maybe he is no longer crying about how his enemies, “talk about him like a dog,” to paraphrase Jimi Hendrix. We’re now supposed to respond like Pavlovian dogs and anoint him with praise? Why can’t we all get swept up with the same enthusiastic adoration of his pep rally sycophants?

    Perhaps Obama will no longer be calling for the left’s collective response to presumed “enemies” on the opposite side of that old fence. But, isn’t that what the immediate smear campaign over the past week has been? A concerted effort of response to Obama’s call for action. The left were slow to respond in force on November 2 to Obama’s rallying call against their enemies. But after the “shellacking” they suffered in the election, they heard Democrat strategist Mark Penn point out on MSNBC the next opportunity would come if only there were another Oklahoma City-like incident of 1994 that Obama, and the left, could manipulate and exploit. Well, they got it last Saturday, and have been trying to manipulate and exploit it to the max. They aren’t done yet, as the smears continue on the left and calls for gun bans begin again.

    So, although we surely cannot presume Obama’s Wednesday night speech demonstrates he has changed his core beliefs and ambitions nor presume he is no longer paranoid about his “enemies” on the right redefining his legacy, we are I suppose to now shrug off the slurs and smears of the past two years from Obama and the left and believe he is now truly above any continued fray?


    • ladylove

      yep he gave a speech

      a very carefully scripted, keenly choreographed, contrived speech.

      so could Hitler,

      so whats the point.

      he read a speech,

      I’ve read it, it is not such a great speech.

      but oh so carefully written.

      Obama took advantage of a memorial service for 6 people that were murdered, for no other reason than a mentally ill man for reasons we may never know, went on a shooting spree.

      tell me what exactly did Obama say,

      why did he wait so long to ask for “civility” why did he not put a stop to the attacks on innocent people who were blamed for something they had nothing to do.

      yah Obama gave a speech, only because he had to.

      too bad he did not give the victims of Fort Hood the same respect.

      just too bad.

  • ladylove

    as I have read post and stories about this event the last week.

    I cannot but help being reminded:

    remember when it was exposed that Obama had been sitting in the front pew of Wrights church, listening, embracing and believing in everything Wright said and did, admitting he had a very close relationship with Wright, who was like a father, a teacher, a pastor, a mentor, an uncle figure and a close and intimate friend, yet Obama knew nothing about Wright’s hatemongering and racism.

    same type rhetoric going on today, , and Obama gave a speech, and poof he had never been there, he had never heard anything wrong, and poof he was innocent despite being guilty as sin.

    and then we have now.

    as much as I hate to have to agree with Obama on anything, he is right about one thing, some of the people of this GREAT NATION, are stupid, they are so desperate to have something to believe in, they would believe in something they know is wrong,

    Obama took advantage of a horrible horrible tragedy, period, it is a disgrace to those who died, a disgrace to those who were shot, and it is a disgrace to all who were there.

    and he should be ashamed for capitalizing on such a tragedy, but he isn’t, or he would not have taken advantage of it.

    • russ311

      Well said.

    • truebearing


      Nice post! We are going to find out if the majority in this country have functioning brains in the months to come. Forgetting what Obama has done, and ignoring what he is doing, just because of a hollow speech is truly pathetic.

      Obama is telling people what they want to hear, and he has bamboozled the fools of America repeatedly using his sociopathic tactics. If the people don’t learn, they will fall under the thumb of the leftist scum.

      • craigiri

        We are going to find out all right.
        The “haters” and corporate funded teabaggers are going to run out of money and venon and sane Americans are going to, one by one, see how crazy the “new right” is.

        Every crazy word spoken by your leaders Palin and Rushbo and Hannity and friends…..is sinking you.

        Real Americans? Sorry to say, the cult of foolish blind followers of clowns like Glenn Beck are dying off……the oldest audience in the entire history of broadcastings. Meanwhile, Obama and friends will once again bring out the young and dynamic AMERICANS who represent our future.

        I say right now there is about an 85% chance of his re-election. That sure beats what happened to Daddy Bush…and even GW was not elected the first time, and on re-elected because of the fear he instilled by starting wars all over the planet.

        Sorry, but you won’t see the violent future you desire. The meek shall inherit the earth (and this country).

        • ladylove

          I am a democrat, so that kind of blows your theory.

    • ladylove

      thank you friends

      hello truebearing, your post are great, as always.

  • ladylove

    Obama is the exact same person he has always been

    nothing, absolutely NOTHING, has changed.

    wow he read a very carefully scripted, a very carefully choreographed, and a contrived speech.

    he has used a National Tragedy, to fit his own needs.

    that Memorial was for all the victims, those who recieved gunshots, and for those who were there and witnessed the fear and carnage first hand.

    and who did Obama concentrate on 2 out of the 19 gunshot victims.

    come on people that was not a memorial service, it was another of Obama’s dog and pony shows.

    I repeat he is the same man he has always been, NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

  • oldguy5

    Was the AZ shooting carried out to replace a federal judge that was appointed by Bush or was it an attach on a democrat in congress? The judge is dead and the democrat lives.

    • ladylove

      the attack was aimed at Gifford, by a lone deranged person, who was fixated on Gifford, and where a lot of innocent bystanders just happened to be.

      the judge was not scheduled to be there, he just showed up,

      why is this such a hard concept to understand.

  • loudog

    “I am looking to see some significant spending cuts proposed by the president that we can work on together,” Cantor said the day before the GOP took control of the House.

    Translation, “we gained control of the House with absolutely no plan on how to cut spending so we’ll just continue criticizing the President”.

    Don’t forget about raising that debt ceiling while you try to come up with an idea and backtrack on your “Pledge to America”.

    • theprofessor

      ““we gained control of the House with absolutely no plan on how to cut spending so we’ll just continue criticizing the President”.”

      You’ve memorized what the dems said during the Bush administration. Good for you!!!

  • rockhard

    Obama played healer ? really you mean his base cheering, whistling turning the so called memorial into a circus freak show for their messiah and giving out political T-shirts ? are you serious or what ? this writer lost his mind likes so many others in this country who fell for a circus show that was a disgrace to the memory of all those murdered by a leftist. maybe they were having a party because to many people bought into the lies, and this writer is helping spread the propaganda, his allies attack the wrong people and he plays nice, it was all staged circus and if people fall for the show they need some mental help.

  • RachaelGiddy

    I think the picture says it all. There are six dead people and we’re talking about whether the speech helped the President? Shouldn’t we be asking if the speech helped comfort the families? After the speech he’s glad-handing with the people from Congress instead of consoling the families. The crowd is hooting for him and he goes Reverend Wright instead of trying to stop them? I was horrified..still am. His abject failure of leadership has never been more obvious than during this crisis. Everything is not about him or his polls. Again, there are 6 dead and 12 wounded. This entire event was a failure for him and his administration. For his polls to tick up on this is just plain sick.

    • ladylove


      they also seem to forget that yes 6 died, 13 were wounded,

      but what about all those that were there, who witnessed and experinced this tragedy, what about them,

      those who will have guilt becaue a 9 year died, and they lived, or why them, and not me

      this is about all the victims, those who died, those who were wounded, and those who came out without a scratch, physically that is.

      and Obama focused mostly on 2, not saying they were not worthy, but they were not alone.

      the truth is had Ms Giford had been a republican, Obama would have behaved totally different.