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Peter Smirniotopoulos

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Has the President Turned the Corner?

Posted: 09/26/11 09:23 PM ET

When the Wednesday morning, arm-chair-quarterbacking begins on Nov. 7, 2012 -- the day after the next presidential election -- we may look back on the week of Sept. 19, 2011, as a turning point in the presidency of Barack Obama and his candidacy for re-election.

Last week's momentous political developments included:

1. The president pivoting from The Great Capitulator to the Leader of the Free World, by, among other things:

a. Presenting a solidly Democratic deficit-reduction proposal and drawing a line in the sand with the GOP/TP leadership about no budget cuts without revenue enhancers; and

b. Taking a very strong but well-tempered pro-Israel stand at the United Nations that will make him much harder to attack in the 2012 campaign as soft on defense or weak on Mid-East foreign policy.

2. GOP front-runner Gov. Rick Perry exposing a number of those weaknesses that have caused hand-wringing within the real base of the Republican Party (e.g. moneyed donors and the Old Guard) and not-so-quiet lamentations about desperately needing a "better" option to challenge Perry's front-runner status, his faux pas of the last week including:

a. Placing politics over policy and good judgment, endeavoring to intentionally undermine the president's U.N. speech by grandstanding at a New York City news conference orchestrated by his campaign, where he appeared with hard-line members of the Knesset;

b. Demonstrating his complete lack of any grounding whatsoever in foreign affairs and the complexities of the Middle East in particular;

c. Proving that, even when a speech is completely written for him by someone else, he still has trouble saying big words like "appeasement," the true meaning of which are clearly lost on someone who thinks that having been less than a mediocre student at a state university qualifies him to lead the Tea Party into 2012; and

d. Offering his worst GOP debate performance to date, as determined by, well, pretty much everybody.

3. The GOP/TP leadership in Congress proving for the first time their strong commitment to transparency in government, by taking several steps demonstrating beyond peradventure that their main goal is to defeat the president's re-election in 2012, even if it means blocking measures that a majority of economists have opined will help the economy recover and create jobs, and thereby improve the financial plight of literally hundreds of millions of Americans, including:

a. Various and sundry proclamations by GOP/TP figureheads that both the American Jobs Act ("AJA") and the president's more-recent debt-reduction proposal are DOA in the House; and

b. Withholding support for disaster relief to the hardest-hit areas of the country by insisting that they be matched by dollar-for-dollar cuts in spending on programs favored by Democrats.

4. The continuation of the Tea Party's powerful yet sometimes truly strange influence over the GOP, rearing its ugly head in new and wondrous ways, including:

a. Members of the debate audience at the CNN/Tea Party Express debate ago yelling out, "Let him die" in response to a question about what to do in the case of a critically ill, hypothetical 30-year-old without health insurance, and not one of the GOP candidates expressed their offense at such an overt lack of compassion;

b. A chorus of boos from members of the debate audience at last week's Fox News/Google debate, following a video question submitted by a real, not theoretical, soldier serving in Iraq, who also happens to be gay, and not one of the GOP candidates spoke up in defense of someone who's unselfish service in defending the country should be paramount to his sexual orientation; and

c. The result of Sunday's Florida GOP straw poll showing neither Gov. Rick Perry nor former Gov. Mitt Romney as the front-runner but retired Godfather's Pizza executive Herman Cain, besting both of them by just under the cumulative total of their respective straw poll votes, with Iowa straw poll front-runner Michele Bachmann coming in dead last.

Last week's remarkable political developments and events may be nothing short of a miracle, having the potential to galvanize once again the three groups upon which both the Obama administration and the Obama 2012 campaign must rely if the president is to be re-elected: His base of devoted Dems (newly minted Progressives plus stalwart, registered Democrats) who will vote for the president no matter what; the Far Left, which has been feeling very much disenfranchised by their own president; and moderate-leaning Democrats and a good number of Independents, who -- up until this point in time -- have been wrestling with the question of "If not Obama in 2012, then who?"

This change in the president's tactics and demeanor was, temporally speaking, truly a pivot, because it appeared to happen almost overnight, starting with the strategic leaking by some White House advisors, appearing on Sunday talk shows, of components of the president's deficit reduction proposal, a day in advance of the full proposal being announced by the president in his Rose Garden speech last Monday. However, one could argue or at least ponder that laying the groundwork for this sea change was indeed begun last December, with the lame-duck-session compromise on extension of the Bush tax cuts; continued with an overly conciliatory approach to the debt ceiling debate; and culminating in the president's AJA speech on Sept. 8, offering to a joint session of Congress a compilation of job-creating proposals that any reasonable Republican would have to embrace.

By making this pivot the president put into stark contrast for all voters the difference between him and the GOP/TP members of Congress, as well as those seeking the GOP nomination and, ergo, his job in 2013. If this was indeed an intentional strategy for both legislating in 2011 and seeking re-election in 2012, it was cleverer by half than I would have ever given credit to this president. Moreover, in implementing this strategy the president has been helped along enormously by the GOP candidates' debates and the many miscues of those candidates and the GOP/TP leadership of last week, for which both Gov. Perry's pro-Israel news conference and the open, undefended booing at the Fox News/Google GOP debate of a gay American service member serving in Iraq will clearly serve as the poster children until, of course, they are eclipsed by whatever lunacy is yet to come.

 

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