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A Battered Obama Tries to Regroup

A Battered Obama Tries to Regroup

By Alexis Simendinger - August 4, 2011

It is perhaps cold comfort on Aug. 4 to be a graying and just-turned-50-year-old president, even after sharing several birthday fundraising bashes in Chicago with 2,500 friends.

The economy is tanking. Americans say they’re disgusted with Washington’s ways. Republicans and some fellow Democrats slammed President Obama for “failing to lead” after a debt-ceiling fight that prompted international angina and rifts over the role of government. And renewed White House promises to “pivot” to the ailing economy have turned circles instead of turning to solutions.

If the president’s rhetoric is any indication this week, he plans to appeal to Americans as a Washington insider and as a fed-up outsider, in an effort to recover, at least politically, from the debt-ordeal doldrums. Previous presidents have attempted to campaign as both “of Washington” and rooted outside it and found it tough to pull off. Nevertheless, Obama appears determined to defend his achievements as the government’s leader while also wrapping his arms around independent and middle-class voters who complain that the nation’s capital is unplugged from their values.

In the Rose Garden before signing a debt-deficit compromise bill Tuesday that ended the nation’s risk of Treasury default, the president’s populist streak was in full flower:

“While Washington has been absorbed in this debate about deficits, people across the country are asking what we can do to help the father looking for work. What are we going to do for the single mom who’s seen her hours cut back at the hospital? What are we going to do to make it easier for businesses to put up that ‘now hiring’ sign? That’s part of the reason that people are so frustrated with what’s been going on in this town.”

In the next breath, Obama made clear he is among the Washington “we,” but more importantly, its patient and responsible leader.

“[W]hen Congress gets back from recess,” the president continued, “I will urge them to immediately take some steps -- bipartisan, common-sense steps -- that will make a difference; that will create a climate where businesses can hire, where folks have more money in their pockets to spend, where people who are out of work can find good jobs.”

Wednesday in Chicago, during his first political appearances since the debt ceiling fight ended, the president said he has Americans’ priorities in mind, and hopes Congress does, too.

“We don’t have time to play these partisan games. We’ve got too much work to do,” he told supporters at the first of two Democratic fundraisers. “Over the next several months, I hope Congress is focused on what the American people are focused on, making sure that the economy is growing; making sure that businesses are getting financing; making sure that young people are getting trained for the jobs of the future; making sure that we’re getting all those construction workers that got laid off after the housing boom went bust, and putting them to work, rebuilding our roads and our bridges, rebuilding Chicago, rebuilding Detroit, rebuilding rural communities all across the country, putting people back to work.”

The White House announced plans for an Obama road trip by bus through Midwestern battleground states Aug. 15-17, to be followed by a scheduled Obama family vacation to Martha’s Vineyard. The Republican National Committee is unlikely to ignore the juxtaposition. The bus tour’s themes will be job creation and efforts to fuel economic growth.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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