But as circumstances have changed, so too has Obama. Having entered office without much executive experience, he has learned by doing. Initially, his impulse was to throw out broad concepts and let his Democratic allies in Congress fill in the legislative details. After the midterm shellacking, and the tea-party fueled Republican takeover of the House, the next two years were marked by gridlock and brinkmanship – and an ugly reelection campaign.
Now Obama is playing a different game.
“He’s had a steep learning curve, but I think he’s learned a bit about how to negotiate,” says James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. “He’s tougher now.”
Instead of trying to make nice with congressional Republicans, his team has made clear, Obama will work the opposition from the outside, traveling out into the country more and playing to public opinion. His tech-savvy campaign operation, Obama for America, has morphed into Organizing for Action, an effort to turn his millions of supporters into a digital army that “will work to turn our shared values into legislative action,” as Obama wrote in an e-mail to supporters.