Opinion: ‘Obama akbar!’ The Democratic president pitches healthcare in Ohio; But for his party? Or himself?

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Having postponed his Asian trip three days for the health of his healthcare legislation, President Obama goes back on the domestic road again Monday to push that agenda instead of jobs, as he has repeatedly since losing the Massachusetts Senate seat to Republicans.

Obama’s Midwestern audience will surely be friendly. And someone will surely shout, ‘We love you!’ And the president will surely respond, ‘I love you back!’ (UPDATE Monday 2 p.m.: It happened just that way.)

But outside the venue, touting healthcare as the country’s No. 1 Top Supremo priority on this Ides of March may be a tough sell in that hard-hit region.

And elsewhere, for that matter. Despite a brief blip of support after his so-called summit with Republicans, recent national polls have shown:

That only 42% support Obama’s legislation (barely 20% of them strongly) while 53% oppose (fully 41% strongly);


That 57% of Americans believe the bill will actually hurt the badly-bruised economy, 66% think the measure, if passed, will increase the federal deficit while more than eight in 10 (81%) think the legislation will cost more than its forecasts;

While 55% agree with the Republican suggestion to scrap the existing measure and start over on a new one.

In an effort to continue dominating each weekday’s news cycle with talk of...., Obama on Monday will visit Strongsville, a suburb of Cleveland, in the northeastern corner of Ohio, where counties report unemployment running 10 and 11% now, about two points higher than last year at this time when the much-hailed economic stimulus legislation had just been signed.

(BTW, Vice President Joe ‘I Don’t Have Time for Amtrak Today’ Biden, who’s been in charge of stimulating the stimulus spending, will also be in Ohio on Monday, but not pushing healthcare. He’ll be raising money in Cincinnati for Rep. Steve Driehaus and then up in Cleveland for struggling Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Subplot B: Driehaus voted for the original healthcare measure, but as a Catholic opposes the Senate version for lack of specific restraints on federal abortion funding. Can Joe talk him over with a vi$it?)

The national unemployment rate, now that many have given up looking for work, is 9.7%, higher than the 8% maximum promised in early 2009.

After Republican rookie Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy‘s Massachusetts Senate seat in January, the first Republican to hold it since 1952, Obama, who had campaigned in vain for Brown’s opponent, indicated he got the message of opposition to a year’s worth of healthcare talk and a keen voter desire to focus instead on jobs.

After a few days, however, the ex-state and ex-U.S. senator returned to his relentless focus on healthcare, which polls have shown is struggling. A average of polls showed 48% in opposition and 44% in support, which forced the president’s pollster to make the strange argument that even though most don’t now like the plan, they will come to after it passes in a congressional vote, likely late this week.

Obama himself is not on any ballot in November’s midterm elections. So he’s personally got nothing to lose by driving congressional Democrats to give him what he wants, regardless of the wishes of folks back home.

Better to have successfully completed even a controversial healthcare makeover, the thinking goes, than to go to the voters having wasted a year and try to blame the hapless minority Republicans for the Democratic fissures that stalled a compromise for so many months.

But is Obama perhaps leading his party pals off the cliff, many are now wondering? (See cartoon commentary above by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Michael Ramirez of Investors Business Daily.)

Fact is, if Democrats kept their overwhelming legislative majorities in both houses of Congress plus control of the White House for the next two years, who are they going to blame for anything come 2012 and Obama’s reelection bid with a new VP partner? They’d be playing nonstop defense.

On the other hand, if the House went Republican in November in a modest or landslide rejection of Obama policies, and San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi lost her speakerly gavel to Ohio’s John Boehner, that could actually help the president. Instead of Democrats taking full responsibility for everything wrong the next two years, it would stick the GOP with at least partial responsibility for ensuing events.

You don’t need all the facts on your side for such a campaign; just some plausible argument points.

Related item:

How Obama tries running against Washington from within Washington

-- Andrew Malcolm

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