President Barack Obama, who until now has largely not personalized his political opposition, has shifted tactics, apparently deciding he needs a foil with a name and a face to give voters a clearer choice in the upcoming midterm elections.
So at a Wednesday appearance in the Cleveland suburb of Parma, Obama repeatedly went after Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) by name, accusing the House minority leader of offering no new ideas, offering stale policy prescriptions of the kind that weakened the economy, and rejecting all Democratic attempts to reduce unemployment.
Obama specifically invoked Boehner no less than eight times. For instance, here's a part of the speech in which he talked of the rightness of his proposal to create permanent research and development tax credits for businesses and investment write-offs.
Now, to most of you, I'll bet this just seems like common sense. (Laughter.) But not to Mr. Boehner and his allies. For years, Republicans have fought to keep these corporate loopholes open. In fact, when Mr. Boehner was here in Cleveland he attacked us for closing a few of these loopholes — and using the money to help states like Ohio keep hundreds of thousands of teachers and cops and firefighters on the job. (Applause.)
Mr. Boehner dismissed these jobs we saved — teaching our kids, patrolling our streets, rushing into burning buildings — as "government jobs" — jobs I guess he thought just weren't worth saving.
The president appeared to be taking a page from his Democratic Oval Office predecessor, Bill Clinton.
After Republicans took control of the House in 1994, Clinton made Newt Gingrich, then the House speaker, the personification of Republican policies he opposed.
That the more voters saw of Gingrich, the less they seemed to like him, helped Clinton in his effort to have voters choose him and his policies over the House speaker.
It became such an effective tactic that during the 1996 presidential campaign, Clinton created a new political tandem known as Dole-Gingrich, conjoining the Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole with the increasingly unpopular speaker.
We'll have to wait and see if in coming weeks Obama sticks with the latest approach of calling Boehner out by name.
For his part, Boehner appeared not to rise to the bait. In a very unGingrich way, he issued a measured response, not acknowledging that the president had gone after him personally.
"If the president is serious about finally focusing on jobs, a good start would be taking the advice of his recently departed budget director and freezing all tax rates, coupled with cutting federal spending to where it was before all the bailouts, government takeovers, and 'stimulus' spending sprees."
For Obama, personalizing the opposition by going after Boehner could be politically advantageous.
The Republican House leader doesn't have nearly the presence or charisma of the president or, for that matter, the mid-1990s Gingrich.