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Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany

Attack, but with Moderation

By Hubert Wetzel

Translated By Ron Argentati

21 January 2013

Edited by Lau­rence Bouvard

Germany - Süddeutsche Zeitung - Original Article (German)

Barack Obama begins his second term in office today with a huge ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Long before the formal ceremony, however, he began showing his changed attitude toward the Republicans. Nevertheless, Obama will have to use tools other than a crowbar.

In the past, Barack Obama held two important offices: First, he was president of the United States. Second, he coached his daughter Sasha's basketball team. In that role, he had occasion to exhort his players during halftime to be more aggressive on the court or risk losing the game.

Coach Obama probably likes the way President Obama started his second half. He didn't wait for Monday's official hoopla—the swearing in, the speech, the parade, the galas—before he showed the new and sharper treatment of his Republican opposition that he had already hinted at shortly following his reelection in November. Obama realizes he hasn't much time before becoming a “lame duck.”

He sees that the Republicans still haven't overcome the shock of their election loss and that they still stagger around aimlessly and leaderless. He's enough of a fighter now—with an understandable measure of satisfaction and ruthlessness—to go after those stubborn, nasty Republican hillbillies who pestered him so much during his first four years.

Now he's on a roll. In the few weeks since November Obama has pushed through higher tax rates on the rich and raised the debt ceiling; he plucked Chuck Hagel from the Republican ranks and made him his defense secretary; and he has plunked a stack of measures down on the table intended to strengthen America's gun laws—all of it so right and correct but up until now so utterly unthinkable.

Obama has to Avoid Romney's Mistakes

When Obama took office four years ago, he was inspired by the idea of bipartisanship, intelligent compromises that would benefit the nation. The Republicans obstructed him for four years (even though Obama himself dabbled around so much that he made it easier for his opponents). Finally, however, he had had enough.

That's understandable. One can accomplish nothing in Washington without force. Not physical force, but political force. But Obama also has to take care that force doesn't become his only tool and he isn’t transformed into the opposite of what he originally wanted to be—a force for reconciliation.

Nor will Obama's argument that he won the election get him very far. Every Republican representative in the House can make the same claim and not every idea the Republicans put forth is based on mindless ideology.

Not every representative concerned about the horrendous national debt who demands reductions in government spending in exchange for raising the debt ceiling is, as Obama insinuated, blackmailing the nation as if they held a gun to its head demanding a ransom. Nor is every senator who rejects Obama's plans for stricter gun control just a puppet of the gun lobby.

The main thing Obama can't overlook: Every one of those pesky Republicans in Congress represents a lot of just plain citizens. If Obama continues on as he has in the past few weeks, he runs the risk of eventually falling into his own “47 percent trap.” Mitt Romney managed to alienate nearly half the electorate by referring to them as social parasites who will just vote Democratic anyway—a stupid and insulting remark.

Obama can't afford to make the same mistake and call another 47 percent of the electorate stupid or unimportant because they voted for the other team in the last election. Politics isn't basketball.



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