Obama's Choice: Good Policy or Good Politics

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 10:52 AM EST

Jonathan Chait takes note today of the progress President Obama has made in his campaign to highlight Republican obstructionism and work around them with executive orders that he can implement on his own:

I was skeptical last October that Obama’s initiative would help his approval ratings, but it looks like I was wrong. Obama’s poll numbers have climbed over the last several months, with his net job-approval rating, which had bottomed out at minus ten percentage points, approaching parity.

....Republicans are beginning to grasp their own inadvertent complicity in Obama’s comeback. Some, of course, believe that their failure lies in having compromised too much. But political realism is advancing. Representative Tom Cole bluntly asserts that his party simply needs to disappear from the national debate: “The big thing for us is to not be part of the conversation instead of trying to inject ourselves into it.” It’s sound advice. If Republicans weren’t charging around threatening to overturn decades of American social policy and possibly plunge the world into economic crisis if Obama refuses to accede to their goals, Obama would have a harder time defining himself in opposition to them.

The payroll tax fight offers the first test of whether or not the new breeze of tactical realism will prevail, or be overwhelmed by countercurrents of militant obstruction.

This also means that we'll soon get a test of Team Obama's view of the importance of politics vs. policy in an election year. If Obama's campaign is working, then it's actually in his interest to (subtly! quietly!) pick a fight with Republicans so that they'll look obstructionist yet again over the payroll tax holiday. But if it's policy that he really cares about, then he'll just take the win if Republicans offer to cave in. We should find out soon which it is.

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