Obama: It’s all about me, but it shouldn’t be

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama promised on Thursday to fight through Christmas to win Senate approval for his Wall Street regulatory proposals and his pitch to extend the payroll tax. He tried to use his personal popularity to discredit GOP policy arguments, and he again opposed approval of the job-producing Keystone XL pipeline.

“We will stay here as long as it take to make sure peoples’ taxes don’t go up,” he said, when asked if he would accompany his family on their Christmas vacation to Hawaii.

Some GOP consultants are warning Republican politicians to be wary of Obama’s personal ratings. “We’re hesitant to jump on board with heavy attacks… There’s a lot of people who feel sorry for him,” said Nicholas Thompson, a vice president at the GOP-affiliated Tarrance Group polling firm, according to a Dec. 6 report in Yahoo News.

But some GOP leaders are trying to use Obama’s personality to further damage his poll ratings.

“We see so many problems that are a result of what Obama represents,” former Alaska governor Sarah Palin said Dec. 7. The record offers “example after example of his words not matching his action,” she said. “He’s a phony, Barack Obama is a phony.”

Obama’s 20-minute press conference was announced after GOP Senators easily defeated a Democratic push to confirm Richard Cordray, the controversial former Ohio attorney general whom Obama nominated to run the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

With one eye on the 2012 campaign, the president used the event to portray himself as the defender of middle-class Americans against Wall Street, and also as the bipartisan champion of middle America against irrational GOP obstruction.

These disputes can shape the voting public’s attitude towards Obama’s performance and boost his Democratic supporters’ morale.

Similarly, a perceived Obama win in the roiling dispute over proposed extensions to payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits may spur infighting inside the GOP, depressing the coalition’s unity and morale during the 2012 campaign.

GOP Senators who oppose Cordray say the powerful position will give Democrats yet more unsupervised power over the financial sector, even after federal regulators were discredited by their role in inflating the real-estate bubble during the last decade. Cordray also controversially volunteered the resources of the Ohio attorney general’s office to defend three state officials caught snooping through government databases in 2008 in search of information to discredit an Obama critic.

Yet Obama contended Thursday that opposition to Cordray “makes absolutely no sense. I don’t think there is any American out there who thinks we got into the mess we did was because of too much regulation of Wall Street or the financial services industry.”

GOP legislators, and many economists, have made that argument for several years. They cite as evidence more than 10 years of federal government pressure on banks to provide mortgages to poor people.

Obama also dismissed the GOP’s effort to tie a bipartisan extension of payroll tax rollbacks to a final approval of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Obama stopped construction of the multi-billion dollar pipeline in November amid opposition from environmental activists.

The GOP’s pipeline push is driven by personal animus, said Obama, who declared yesterday he would oppose any tax deal that included approval of the pipeline. If the “GOP wants to dicker, to see what they can extract from us, my response to them is ‘Just do the right thing, focus on the American people, on the economy, right now,” he said.

“This is not about me,” Obama declared. “They should not extend the payroll tax for me, they shouldn’t extend unemployment insurance for me… This is for 160 million people who in 23 days will see their taxes go up if Congress doesn’t act.”

Obama’s effort to portray the political fight over jobs as an irrational personal dispute may bear fruit as he leverages his relatively high personal ratings for public consumption.

His approval rating on the economy is in the 20 percent range according to some polls, but more than 70 percent of Americans say he is a “likable person,” according to a recent Associated Press-GfK poll.

However, the GOP’s effort likely will also have strong public support, because the pipeline promises to deliver more than 10,000 jobs and cheaper gasoline.

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