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Thanks for the support, Mr. President

The general waits in his tent while his soldiers wage war on the battlefield across the river. If things go wrong, he’ll have plenty of time to retreat before the enemy can reach him. But if the battle goes well and victory is secured, he’ll ride out onto the field and fight the retreating army so that it appears he was with his men all along and the triumph belongs to him.

This is Barack Obama’s leadership style. The fight over extending unemployment benefits is only the most recent example, but it’s a clear one:

Today, Barack Obama made a speech in the Rose Garden announcing that he was very disappointed in Congress for not helping people who have no jobs. He called on Congress to fix this. All it took for Obama to act was for a successful vote to already be a foregone conclusion!

That’s right—democrats couldn’t break a republican filibuster to extend unemployment benefits because Ben Nelson (slime) sided with the republicans and Robert Byrd’s senate seat was empty after his passing. Nobody could convince Nelson to switch back, and it took democrats two month to fill Byrd’s seat. All the while, Obama remained relatively quiet about the unemployment issue. The life-line for millions of Americans who depend on unemployment benefits to feed their families had been cut off, and it was treated more or less as an inconvenience.

But once Byrd’s seat was filled, suddenly Obama comes charging onto the field to shame the republicans for blocking the extension. Once it gets passed it’ll look like another great victory for General Obama, champion of the middle class.

But did the White House do anything to help Reid get anything passed before Byrd replacement Carte Goodwin showed up? Obama probably couldn’t have shamed Ben Nelson into supporting an extension of benefits. But he could’ve tried! Obama couldn’t have forced any Republicans not from Maine to vote for an extension of benefits. But he could’ve used his bully pulpit to make it known, repeatedly and forcefully, that Republicans were blocking it!

He did the same thing with health care and financial reform—governing from behind closed doors until the final stretch, at which point he came out with guns blazing, asking his supporters to call their senators and congressmen and urge them to vote for the thing even though their minds were already firmly made up.

Just once, Mr. President, it would be nice if you got involved in the fight before it’s over.

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