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Obama's problem? No one fears him

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Contributor
  • Roland Martin: President Obama's "no drama" attitude is hurting him
  • He says president is too willing to back off and compromise
  • Martin says Obama has yielded to Republicans on extending Bush tax cuts
  • Obama's supporters are angered the president isn't standing up to foes, he says

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

(CNN) -- The White House loves to trumpet that one of President Barack Obama's greatest virtues is that he operates above the fray, choosing not to waste time with the political battles in the trenches.

"No Drama Obama" is what we heard during the 2008 presidential campaign -- that his cool, calm demeanor is his biggest asset. But as I look at how the GOP forced the president's hand on extending the Bush tax cuts; created political hay out of the debt ceiling, helping lead the nation to lose its AAA credit rating; and committed the gross disrespect of rebuffing the president's request to speak to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, it's fair to ask: When will this president strike back and exert some presidential muscle?

There is no doubt that President Obama has taken an aggressive position in going after al-Qaeda. We have taken out far more of the terror group's leaders than under President George W. Bush, including killing Osama bin Laden and the group's No. 2 leader. Even the hawkest of hawks can't complain about his decisions in Libya and Afghanistan.

But the 2012 election will not be decided on foreign policy. The economy will trump all that, and on that note, President Obama looks like a man with all the trappings of the most powerful position in the world, but one who uses little to none of the power.

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This unwillingness to flex his muscle was first seen when Democrats were ready to tar and feather Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman for his stern opposition to then-Sen. Barack Obama in his battle against Sen. John McCain.

Americans respond to decisiveness. They respond to a leader who makes clear what he wants...
--Roland S. Martin

Democrats wanted to strip Lieberman of his committee assignments, but Obama quashed that, saying it wasn't necessary. How did Lieberman repay the president for his support? By being a thorn in his side during the health care debate. I would think that when you saved someone's butt, you might want to lean on him when you need to.

Didn't happen.

When the obscene AIG bonuses became public in early 2009, the American people reacted angrily, wanting to punish Wall Street executives. The White House reacted late with righteous indignation; then did nothing.

The president talks tough with banks one day, then has an olive branch for them the next. All while the banks screw Americans out of their homes, even though the American people kept the fat cat bankers from losing their own multiple million-dollar homes across the nation with billions of dollars in bailouts.

What did JP Morgan Chase leader Jamie Dimon do? Rip the president for picking on bankers, saying it was wrong to keep blaming them, even though their destructive plans of jacking up quarterly stock prices with foul schemes nearly destroyed the world financial system.

So the president helps fatten their balance sheets and they still dump on him? Has he jumped on the banks for refusing to modify loans? Nope. Their plan of action, according to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, is voluntary.

It is abundantly clear that President Obama is unwilling to fire back at his critics, who disrespect him and the office of the president. He wants to take the high ground, while his critics are ripping the ground out from underneath him. Instead of taking charge of his agenda, he is willing to let others blow him off to pursue their own.

When he came into office, President Obama decried the ways of Washington, saying voters don't want to see the acrimony. But they sure as hell want to see a president fight for what he believes in, even if that means losing a battle.

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The White House bowed to Republicans in the Senate in not appointing Elizabeth Warren as head of the Consumer Protection Bureau. She was considered enemy No. 1 for them. So by appointing Richard Cordray, the Obama administration hoped the Senate would recess, allowing them to make his appointment effective during the recess. There was one tiny problem: The only thing the GOP hated more than Warren was the bureau itself. They didn't recess, and now Cordray will be put through the wringer on Tuesday during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Has the president made a stink about the GOP refusing to allow his appointees to move forward? Every now and then, but it is nothing close to the heat President George W. Bush and his supporters put on the Senate when his conservative judges and appointees were being held up.

Maybe White House senior adviser David Plouffe and campaign manager Jim Messina think the tactic the president is taking is appealing to independent voters. But the unwillingness to go to the mat on anything has angered some of his ardent supporters, who feel the White House will leave them hanging in the wind when it's time to fight.

After his Martha's Vineyard vacation, President Obama signaled he was ready to do battle leading up to the 2012 re-election. But the bungling, and eventual capitulation, over when he would address a joint session of Congress to present a jobs plan shows that we have seen more of the same: a decisive action taken by Obama, only to back down and acquiesce to the GOP.

After Obama buckled to Speaker John Boehner by postponing the speech to Thursday, a hardcore Democrat, who hates anything the GOP does and has never voted for a Republican for president, texted me the following: "Does the POTUS need back surgery? I think he does. He needs a spine transplant."

President Obama's feeble attempt to engage his foes is angering those who are ready to do battle and have his back. I've heard it from folks in the labor movement, civil rights leaders, women and young folks. And don't be surprised if polling shows that independents want a president who will stick to his guns, even if they disagree with him on policy.

Americans respond to decisiveness. They respond to a leader who makes clear what he wants and will use the power of the presidency to lead his troops up the hill to take on those who oppose him.

Right now, it appears President Obama is working to not lose, as opposed to fighting to win. And that simply ain't gonna cut it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.