A new note is creeping in to President Obama's campaign speeches lately — a frustrated tone sharply at odds with the hope and change themes of less than a year ago.
As he travels this week on behalf of Democratic candidates in multiple states, Obama is lashing out at his critics, and those who won't give him credit for nine months of work.
“I said this before, last week at a fundraiser — I don't mind cleaning up the mess that some other folks made, that's what I signed up to do,” Obama said. “But while I'm there mopping the floor I don't want somebody standing there saying, 'You're not mopping fast enough.' Or, 'You're not holding the mop the right way.' “
The shift comes even as health care reform, Obama's signature issue, appears finally to be making headway in Congress. And it heralds the start of an intense political season as both parties look to the 2010 midterm elections.
“I think they are fairly pleased with what's going on with health care reform, and they are thinking they are on the path to finally doing something,” said John Fortier, a political scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “On the other hand, the elections are coming up.”
The White House is increasingly playing to its political base. Obama's expressions of frustration go directly to the feeling of many Democrats that Republicans are to blame for his difficulties with health care and other issues.
As part of that, the administration recently picked a fight with Fox News, creating a sideshow distraction that lasted nearly two weeks.
The president is making more pointed remarks about his critics. He told supporters in New York that some Republicans support him on health care reform — noting they are mostly retired and that, “last time I checked, they're not socialist.”
Obama in the meantime has shifted his schedule around, increasing his campaign-related travel while scaling back governance-related public events at the White House. His last formal press conference was in July.
At the same time, Obama's downward trajectory in the polls seems to have leveled off. The administration came through a tough August that saw a drop-off in public support for health care reform and in Obama job approval.
From a high point of 70 percent job approval at his inauguration, Obama has settled into about a 50 percent job approval rating — a drop, but still a comfortable spot for an incumbent after a bruising nine-month start.
“It seems like they have a little bit more confidence, they are starting to hit back politically,” Fortier said. “They got hit hard in August and now they feel like they at least have a floor under them.”