Friday, April 15, 2011

The Washington Post Morning Fix: President Obama, the compassion candidate

President Obama, the compassion candidate

President Obama has begun road-testing his 2012 campaign message this week in a series of speeches that can be boiled down to a single word: compassion.

“The America I know is generous and compassionate,” Obama said in his speech on the debt Wednesday .

At a Democratic National Committee fundraiser Thursday night in Chicago, Obama reiterated his “belief in an America that is competitive and compassionate,” contrasting that with a Republican Party that “is entirely sincere that says we no longer can afford to do big things in this country ... (that) we can’t afford to be compassionate.”

The electoral frame Obama is seeking to set up is simple: the 2012 election is not about an issue or even a set of issues but rather a broader moral choice about what kind of country we want America to be.

In many ways, that strategy is a return to the central tenet of the successful campaign of 2008: that voting for Obama was fundamentally aspirational, that it said something larger about who we are and, more importantly, who we can be.

Need proof? The two most memorable words/phrases of the 2008 race — “hope” and “yes we can” — both sought to invoke that somewhat amorphous idea that voting for Obama said something basic (and good) about the country.

Early indications are that Obama and his political team want to return to that aspirational, we-are-all-in-this-together messaging that delivered him victory with 365 electoral votes in 2008.

Of course, the three years that have passed since Obama won have been filled with economic turmoil and legislative battles — most notably health care — that have made him look more like an average politician than the transformational leader that Democrats, independents and even some Republicans voted for back in 2008.

Republicans will do everything they can to keep the election at a ground level debate of Obama’s policies, rather than a 10,000-foot discussion of what it means to be an American.

But Obama’s rhetorical skill — coupled with the fact that the GOP will be embroiled in a serious primary fight for much of the next year — suggest that the incumbent will get a chance to frame the race as he sees fit for the foreseeable future.

The big budget vote: The number of Republican defections on the budget compromise was hardly overwhelming Thursday, as the bill passed with 260 votes. But the tea party sent a message.

Fifty-nine Republicans — a handful more than rejected a short-term continuing resolution a few weeks ago — rejected the bill, while another 179 voted in favor. That three in four Republicans voted for the bill demonstrates a fair amount of party unity, even though some on the right were clearly looking for much bigger cuts.

On the Democratic side, 81 voted yes and 108 voted no, in what amounts to a more divided reaction to the compromise Obama and Democratic leaders helped orchestrate.

On the Senate side, the bill passed even more easily, 81 to 19.

Notable ‘no’ voters included most of the House’s and Senate’s tea party-affiliated members, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), all of whom are eyeing or running for higher office.

Redistricting update: Arkansas and Oklahoma are both moving forward with redistricting maps that are unlikely to change much in their current delegations.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) on Thursday signed into law a congressional redistricting plan that should have little impact on the current map. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s congressional delegation has agreed on its own status quo plan, which sailed through a state House committee vote.

Though Democrats controlled the process in Arkansas, they chose not to overhaul the map, which could have given them a better chance at winning seats. Instead, a map that flipped from three Democrats and one Republican to one Democrat and three Republicans in November will remain largely the same.

That the Democrats chose not to be too ambitious with the map means they miss one of relatively few opportunities to add winnable districts. Arkansas is one of just three states where Republicans hold a majority of congressional seats but Democrats get to draw the lines. (At the same time, outside of Little Rock, it’s hard to find territory that isn’t conservative, so it’s not clear how Democrats could have done much better.)

In Oklahoma, Republicans control the process and could try to make things tough for Democratic Rep. Dan Boren, but Boren has held down a very conservative district for a while now, and Republicans in the delegation seemed happy to keep their four-to-one majority.


  • Ohio state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) is staffing up for a potential challenge to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

  • Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) stands by his embattled fundraiser, onetime Warren Buffett heir apparent David Sokol. The Securities and Exchange Commission is reportedly looking into an insider trading probe of Sokol, but Bruning insists there is nothing criminal involved.

  • Former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) is running for her old seat, which she lost to Rep. Frank Guinta (R) last year — setting up a second potential rematch in the Granite State. But she may face primary opposition from former state Senate president Maggie Hassan or DNC member Joanne Dowdell.

  • Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) raised $1.1 million in the first quarter and has $2.1 million in the bank.

  • Meanwhile, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) raised $1.1 million and has $1.5 million on hand. And his likely GOP opponent, Rehberg, raised $1 million and had $933,000 on hand.

  • Bob Vander Plaats’s Iowa conservative group will decide this fall whether to endorse in the GOP presidential primary.


By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

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