President Obama's choice of Vice President Biden as a running mate continues to pay dividends judging by the the pithy expression his West Wing man has given the president a compelling way to frame his upcoming re-election campaign.
When "60 Minutes" journalist Steve Kroft in an interview with Obama aired Sunday asserted that Obama was being "judged on your performance, Obama demurred:
Obama: "No, no, no. I'm being judged against the ideal. And, you know, Joe Biden has a good expression. He says— 'Don't judge me against the Almighty, judge me against the alternative.' "
It's just another way of Obama saying he really doesn't want the election to be a referendum on him. Because if voters judge the reality of Obama versus the ideal of Obama they held on Election Day 2008, that's a contest he probably can't win.
Instead, like all presidents confronted with relatively low job-approval ratings, he wants the contest to be a choice between himself and the Republican nominee. That improves his chances greatly.
And if Obama was to be believed, he really doesn't care who gets the nomination since, as he told Kroft, he's pretty sure his message will have more resonance that the eventual Republican nominee or GOP lawmakers.
Obama: "And the question next year is gonna be — and this is how a democracy's supposed to work — do they see a more compelling vision coming out from the other side? Do they think that cutting taxes further, including on the wealthy, cutting taxes on corporations, gutting regulations...Do we think that that is gonna be somehow more successful?
"And if the American people think that that's a recipe for success and a majority are persuaded by that then I'm gonna lose. But I don't think that's— I don't think that's where the American people are gonna go, because I don't think the American people believe that based on what they've seen before, that's gonna work..."
A few minutes later, responding to a question specifically about Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, the two Republican candidates leading the Republican fiel in national and state polls, Obama said:
"Well, first of all, I'll tell you, Steve, it doesn't really matter who the nominee is gonna be. The core philosophy that they're expressing is the same. And the contrast in visions between where I want to take the country and what— where they say they want to take the country is gonna be stark. And the American people are gonna have a good choice and it's gonna be a good debate."
Also worth noting was that Obama's ready rejoinder for Kroft when the journalist asked him if he wasn't doing what Republicans accused him of doing, engaging in class warfare, by making growing income inequality an issue in the upcoming general-election campaign.
Kroft: "This is the class warfare you have been accused of by the Republicans?"
Obama: "Look, the problem is, is that our politics has gotten to the point, where we can't have an honest conversation about the greatest income inequality since the 1920s. And we can't have an honest conversation about the irresponsibility that resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, without somebody sayin' that somehow we're bein' divisive. No, we're bein' honest about what happened and we've gotta be honest about how we move forward."
Actually, "honest conversations" and "our politics" haven't exactly gone hand in hand since the start of the Republic. But that's another story.
Obama wasn't quite channeling Harry "Give 'em Hell" Truman who said he never gave anybody hell but told the truth and his political foes thought that was hell.
But Obama was clearly indicating that when he's accused of class warfare for discussing the increasingly stark income inequality in the U.S. economy, his defense will be that he's telling the truth.
One of the more curious aspects of the interview wasn't supplied by Obama but Kroft who hit the president with both the criticisms of conservatives, that he hasn't compromised enough and liberals, that all he does is compromise, all without Kroft ever seeming to notice the contradiction.
But Obama noticed.
Obama: Right. Steve, you've gotta get your story straight, though. The first argument was that I don't compromise at all. Now you're saying I gave up too much.
Kroft: Well, not— (overtalk) It seems to be all the compromising is being done by you.
Obama: Both stories can't be true. Right?...
Kroft plowed on though, giving the president a chance to make another point, that he knew that as president he would need to make some tough unpopular decisions, that disappointing allies and becoming a political lightning rod come with the Oval Office.
Kroft: Even among some of your supporters, strongest supporters, there is a sense, a little sense of disappointment. That they thought that you were gonna be bolder. That you were gonna take more steps. That you were gonna work outside the box, so to speak. Be a little unconventional. And they think you've been too cautious. That you've just— (overtalk) kind of played it by the numbers.
Obama: That's opposed to my critics, who think I've been this radical socialist. (laugh) If my goal was to maintain the extraordinary popularity that I had right after I made my convention speech in 2004, then I would have never left the Senate. I would have been sittin' on 70 percent approval ratings. I wouldn't have been leading this country, but people'd be really attracted, 'cause I wouldn't have had to make any choices and make any decisions and exercise any responsibility. I took a different path. And as Michelle reminds me, 'You volunteered for this thing.'