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Obama's Labor Day rallying cry: 'Time to act' on healthcare

In a speech at an AFL-CIO picnic Monday, he signaled a harder line toward healthcare reform. But that might not be the full story.

By Staff writer / September 7, 2009

President Barack Obama finishes greeting the audience prior to speaking at the AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic at Coney Island in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Monday.

Charles Dharapak / AP

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Like Clark Kent stepping into a phone booth, President Obama discarded his mild-mannered alter ego on a Cincinnati stage Monday in an attempt to rally his Democratic base and turn the tide running against healthcare reform.

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Gone was the professor-president who took care to explain the complexities of healthcare in such painstaking detail during recent months. In his place was the president-preacher, quite literally before his choir – at least politically speaking – a Labor Day picnic of the AFL-CIO.

It was a glimpse of the president that many Democrats had hoped they had elected in November – a forceful figure using his considerable rhetorical repertory and a clear political mandate to grasp the presidency in his fist.

Instead, many have grown disillusioned by a president who has – in their eyes – caved in to the right far too often, whether on gay rights, a government-run option in healthcare reform, or cutting loose “green jobs” adviser and liberal up-and-comer Van Jones under pressure from Republicans and Fox News commentator Glenn Beck.

In rolled up shirt sleeves and conspicuously without a tie, Obama was in campaign mode once more, seeking to regain some of that lost ground.

“Every debate at some point comes to an end,” he said in reference to the weeks of debate that have left healthcare reform in political limbo. “At some point it’s time to act. Ohio, it’s time to act.”

Obama would hope to carry the enthusiasm of Monday’s picnic onto the dais of Congress, where he will address a joint session Wednesday night.

Yet the Obama of compromise does not appear to be forgotten entirely.

On Sunday morning’s “Meet the Press” – a forum much more likely to give insight into the mechanics of Washington dealmaking than a union rally – one of the president’s senior advisers offered much more tepid words.