LYNN NEARY, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Here's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON: In the Rose Garden yesterday, Mr. Obama was no longer above the fray, he was right in the fray. And he made it clear he's given up on his so far fruitless search for common ground with the Republicans. And he did something he's never done before when sending a proposal to Congress - he made a veto threat upfront.
BARACK OBAMA: And I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share.
LIASSON: But, says Democratic strategist Geoff Garin, cutting the deficit was only one of the president's goals.
GEOFF GARIN: The presidency is a leadership position. It is fine to be a conciliator, but at the end of the day, the threshold quality that people associate with president is leader. And that's what Barack Obama, I think, is in the process of re-establishing for people.
LIASSON: Re-establishing, Garin says, because it's a threshold attribute that independent voters and even Democrats had begun to doubt.
GARIN: What the American people had started to question is whether Barack Obama had the courage of the conviction to lay out a course and stick with it.
LIASSON: Garin says the president's recent combative speeches have helped.
W: That the president is still personally popular.
JIM KESSLER: They're open to this guy. They still like him and they mostly want him to succeed. There's still a fondness for him.
LIASSON: That may be true, but Republicans have been quick to turn this bright spot for Obama into a backhanded compliment that underscores their main argument. Here's Mitt Romney in a GOP debate earlier this month.
MITT ROMNEY: This president is a nice guy. He doesn't have a clue how to get this country working again. And - and...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LIASSON: Jim Kessler.
KESSLER: You know, of course you want to see the economy improve and you'd like to see a deficit package come through. But they have to come up with a formulation that says, well, if the economy is still sputtering along and Congress isn't able to pass anything, let us at least show strength.
LIASSON: According to most forecasters, the economy probably will still be sputtering along next year. Political analyst Stu Rothenberg says Mr. Obama is running for a second term in one of the worst environments for an incumbent.
STU ROTHENBERG: He cannot allow the 2012 election to be a referendum on the state of the country, the state of the economy. He's got to make it a choice between his vision, what he hopes to accomplish, what he thinks he's started to accomplish and where the Republicans want to take the country. That is the only way he can be re-elected.
LIASSON: Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
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