People will fight for a fighter.
That's the lesson from the last year or so of the Obama administration, underscored by a New York Times/CBS News poll from last week.
Here's what one 60-something Democrat had to say about the president: "I'm realistic enough to know how difficult it is and I am not against compromise, but I voted for a backbone. You have to draw some lines in the sand, and I don't think he has done that."
I voted for a backbone too, and I think President Obama has one -- he just has to stop listening to the "smart" political guys in his administration and start paying more attention to his inner FDR.
Franklin Roosevelt once said, "There is nothing I love as much as a good fight." He also said, "I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made." FDR was willing and even eager for a good political brawl, and he accepted making enemies as a fact of political life.
By contrast, President Obama's year of compromise, trying to appeal to independents and trying somehow to get through to Republican lawmakers, just hasn't worked. Fully six in 10 politically independent voters disapprove of the way he's handling his job.
Don't get me wrong. I think a smart, reasonable person who can appreciate the nuances of issues can still get elected to political offices at every level. I think compromise is a good thing and that there's a lot to be said for moderation.
But there's a lot to be said for a bold vision and a clean, hard fight in support of that vision too. In the president's case it would reenergize his lagging base, which the poll found to be more disenchanted with him than ever. And, curiously enough, I believe it would help him tremendously with the very independent voters he's been trying to get back for the last 12 months or so.
There are two reasons for that. The first is that the president is not at all out of touch with middle America. A strong majority of Americans believe that he should focus on creating jobs and not worry so much for now about the deficit. Fifty-six percent say he should pay for his plan just as he proposes -- by asking the rich to pay a little more. And 80% support his call for more investments in infrastructure --- the roads, bridges and schools that need to be rebuilt anyway.
And even rank-and-file Republicans aren't as extreme as their own presidential hopefuls would have us believe. Seventy-five percent of Republican voters believe global climate change is a reality and six out of 10 support civil unions or even marriage for same-sex couples.
But the second reason that I believe sticking to his guns will help with the independents he needs for his reelection is that people appreciate a fighter. Not a dirty fighter, but a man who knows what he believes and keeps to his core principles. Not Richard Nixon, but FDR. Lots of independents and even some conservatives who might disagree with some of his specific policies would come his way because they respect his leadership. Right now, they're just not seeing a leader who knows when to compromise; they're seeing a compromiser who doesn't seem sure when to lead.
The president has time to fix that. Let's hope he will.