Commentary: Obama has to stop playing rope-a-dope with Republicans

President Barack Obama spent too much of his first year playing rope-a-dope with Republicans and delegating crucial legislation to Democrats.

To succeed in his second year, the president must aggressively stand up to friends and enemies. In Wednesday night's State of the Union address, there were some signs — although not enough — that he is ready to do so.

A newly aggressive Obama means confronting Senate Democrats when they gum up legislation, such as the sweet deal granted to U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska on health care reform. It means countering Republicans when they block every piece of legislation and engage in fear mongering — saying that health care reform will threaten people's "liberty."

Obama started on a note of conciliation with Congress in his speech, which was politically astute. The American public is more frustrated and angry with politicians than it's been in decades. If Democrats and Republicans don't make an attempt to work together on health care, clean energy, immigration policy and other neglected priorities, voters this year will vent their rage on all incumbents, regardless of party.

The president said that jobs are his No. 1 priority, but there were few specifics, suggesting he may again delegate this task to Congress. He can't. He needs to take his agenda directly to disgruntled Americans, and make them partners in advancing it.

Some may ask: What has Obama done to serve the interests of average citizens? It is a legitimate question. In his speech, Obama noted how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has saved jobs — by his count, 2 million of them. Tax cuts and unemployment benefits have helped millions, and the much-maligned bank bailout, he noted, helped prevented a more devastating financial collapse.

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