The Buzz

Steve Kraske: Politicians always want to play offense

For two weeks now, I’ve been asked this question more than any other:

“Where’s this guy been?”

“This guy” being President Barack Obama and his fresh determination to play offense against the GOP-controlled Congress.

Cuba. Immigration reform. Free community college. Child care. Threats of vetoes. Opposition to the Keystone pipeline.

A newly confident president has his swagger back, buoyed by a roaring economy and a pop in his job approval numbers.

You sensed it Thursday when the president was at the University of Kansas, where his rhetoric and mood matched those halcyon days of the 2008 campaign when Obama seemed to own the world.

He was comfortable enough to joke about not getting much applause from Republicans during his State of the Union address and how he failed to win Kansas in 2008 and 2012.

“That’s OK,” he said. “I might have won sections of Lawrence.”

And there he was toward the end of his KU speech, needling the GOP with a rhetorical flourish that more than one Republican has acknowledged drives them batty:

“The answer can’t just be ‘no’ to everything,” he said to applause. “I don’t mind hearing ‘no’ to some things. But it can’t be ‘no’ to everything.”

Where’s this guy been?

To read the insider accounts, he’s been hunkered down in his big white house, discouraged at times by the state of his own presidency, unable to extract himself from the constant GOP bombardment of the Affordable Care Act.

In other words, he hasn’t played offense.

That’s not where you want to be in politics. Because when you’re on defense, the old saying goes, you’re losing.

Nearly three months after his party’s shellacking in the November elections, Obama gets that. A lame duck, he is now adroitly flipped the tables. He is leading the way — not newly ascendant Republicans. It’s a stunning reversal.

But here’s the thing: You can’t play offense all the time, no matter how much you want to. When you’re on offense, you sometimes propose big initiatives like health care reform. Then, by necessity, you’re back on defense, defending it.

The best example of political offense in recent decades? The GOP’s 1994 Contract with America. Republicans proposed it, rocketed to record majorities, then flipped back to defense.

So, Democrats, your guy is back. Enjoy it while you can.

To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to skraske@kcstar.com.

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