By keeping his distance, has Obama played Wisconsin right?
With the battle of Wisconsin reverberating in union halls across the country, Obama has refrained from weighing in forcefully on a core Democratic issue. Analysts say he has played it right.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mr. Obama needs the manpower and money of Big Labor to help him mount a vigorous reelection campaign in 2012, and it is vital to his political interests that the unions remain strong. That the battle is centered in the political swing state of Wisconsin – with side skirmishes going on in two more swing states, Ohio and Indiana – only raises the stakes.
At the same time, Obama needs to show that he’s serious about fiscal responsibility, amid dire predictions about the nation’s unsustainable deficits. He and the Democrats are heading for their own showdown with Republicans in Congress over federal budget-cutting and a possible government shutdown.
Had Obama faced such a vexing predicament last year, he may not have been able to resist the temptation to appease his political base and address head on an issue touching core Democratic principles.
But Obama has, for the most part, stayed out of the Wisconsin imbroglio, and in fact, political analysts say, in not carving out an intricate “middle way,” Obama has played it right.
Staying on message
Instead, Obama has remained focused on his jobs message. As things stand now, getting the unemployment rate down from its current 9 percent to closer to 8 percent by Election Day is his most important reelection task.
The president did weigh in on Wisconsin late last week, saying that “some of what I’ve heard ... seems like more of an assault on unions.” He referenced in particular Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to curtail public employees’ collective bargaining rights.
The group Organizing for America – Obama’s old political network that is now part of the Democratic National Committee – had encouraged volunteers to support the protests, but party officials say the White House was not involved.
During his first two years in office, Obama at times derailed his main message by commenting on a side issue – such as the mistaken arrest in 2009 of a black Harvard scholar by a white police officer in Cambridge, Mass., which ignited a week of public discussion about race relations, rather than health-care reform.