Commentary by Jules Witcover: President Obama is in bad odor with many fellow Democrats. They think he's been too conciliatory with the Republicans, especially with those in Congress who have rejected his every gesture of bipartisanship.
WASHINGTON — President Obama is in bad odor with many fellow Democrats. They think he's been too conciliatory with the Republicans, especially with those in Congress who have rejected his every gesture of bipartisanship.
The olive branch he extends to them particularly irritates Democratic faithful who see him buying into the Republican approach of surging more American troops into Afghanistan. They remember his 2008 promises to end the war, as well as the one in Iraq.
His refusal to sanction congressional investigations into the decisions of the recent past also continues to grate on Democratic liberals. But it's campaign season now, and Obama has put his partisan hat on with a vengeance, constantly reminding voters of the messes abroad and at home he has inherited.
The other day, the partisan Obama came flying into Nevada on a rescue mission for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, seeking his fifth six-year term against a tough challenge from tea party favorite Sharron Angle. His olive branch was nowhere in sight at a Las Vegas rally in which he attacked her and the GOP in Congress with uncommon vigor and sarcasm.
Angle won 41 percent in her party's primary in a field of 12, an impressive figure considering the heavy competition. But national Democrats expressed relief at the outcome, arguing that the extreme views she has expressed have made her the easiest Republican for Reid to beat.
Obama heaped criticism on her, especially for agreeing with the characterization of Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas that the $20 billion compensation escrow account imposed on BP by the Obama administration for Gulf oil restitution was a "slush fund." To her campaign's late backtrack, the president needled: "I'm sure she meant 'slush fund' in the nicest possible way."
The most recent Rasmussen poll has Angle seven percentage points ahead of Reid, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal has her leading by three. So Obama in his pitch for Reid broadened his target to the Republicans on Capitol Hill who have so consistently repulsed his Mr. Nice Guy overtures.
The president jumped on House Minority Leader John Boehner's ham-handed description of the Democratic financial industry reform bill as killing an ant with a nuclear weapon. "It's like it should be a movie: 'The Ant that Ate the Economy,' " Obama joked. But broadly he used the congressional Republicans as a foil in casting Reid as the essential player in pushing the Obama agenda against GOP obstructionism.
The president even addressed Reid's notoriously low-key persona, casting him as a latter-day Gary Cooper: "He comes across as soft-spoken — you know he's all like, 'Well, you know.' Even when he's in front of a big crowd ... I mean, that's just how Harry is."
In a bit of a reach, Obama compared him to Harry Truman. "Harry has been dealing with the do-nothing Republican leadership in the Senate, just like Harry Truman," he said. "But despite all their tactics, despite all their political maneuvering, he's just been steady ... and he outlasts them."
Noting that Reid in younger years was boxer who could take a punch, Obama said immoderately: "That's exactly how Harry Reid has been able to orchestrate one of the most productive legislative sessions in the history of America."
Obama himself was doing plenty of counterpunching, reminding Nevadans who are suffering 14 percent unemployment, highest in the nation, that the Republicans "spent a decade driving the economy into a ditch. And now they're asking for the keys back," he said. "You can't have them back. We're just getting the car out of the ditch."
He went on: "Harry and I, we got mud on our shoes. We've been pushing and shoving, `the~ car is just kind of getting out, almost on some pavement." But the Republicans, he said, "want to pull in reverse. Run over Harry and me. Get you back in the mud."
Obama's hope is that this strategy of blaming the Republicans for the sluggish economy will avoid heavy Democratic losses in November and save Harry Reid's political skin in the process, as he puts his dream for bipartisanship in temporary storage on the campaign trail.
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