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October 20, 2013

No more leading from behind

WASHINGTON — Let us hear no more about President Obama leading from behind.

Since a White House adviser uttered that phrase to The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza in 2011 to describe Obama's leadership in Libya, "leading from behind" has become a favorite refrain of Republicans trying to portray Obama as weak.

Rep. Darrell Issa (California) detected "a policy of leading from behind, of indecision" in Syria. Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) said Obama's "strategy of leading from behind meant (Moammar) Gaddafi's weapons stockpiles went unsecured." Sen. Dan Coats (Indiana) said Obama's insistence on higher taxes was more evidence that "the president continues to lead from behind." Rep. Doc Hastings (Washington) even said "the American people have been waiting for the Obama administration to stop leading from behind" — and to hurry up approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

But the last use of the phrase I could find in the congressional record was on Oct. 2, at the start of the shutdown, when. Sen. John Barrasso (Wyoming) said Obama had been "once again attempting to lead from behind in a crisis."

They aren't saying that now.

Obama got out in front of the shutdown and debt-ceiling standoff. He took a firm position -- no negotiating -- and he made his case to the country vigorously and repeatedly. Republicans miscalculated, assuming Obama would once again give in. The result was the sort of decisive victory rarely seen in Washington skirmishes.

On Wednesday, Republicans surrendered. They opened the government and extended the debt limit with virtually no conditions. On Thursday, Obama rubbed their noses in it.

"You don't like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election," Obama taunted them from the State Dining Room. "Push to change it, but don't break it. Don't break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building."

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