US & Canada

Obama takes to the 'bully pulpit'

President Barack Obama speaks about the possible government shutdown

President Obama sounded grim and fed up as he took to the bully pulpit. He said he hoped that those in Congress would do their job, and do the right thing, at the 11th hour.

It doesn't look very likely they will budge. Certainly he won't. The president is playing hard ball and, from a tactical point of view, he is right to do so. While he struck an appropriately downbeat note, he has little to lose, and a fair bit to gain, by taking a stand.

He accused the Republicans of trying to save face with an extreme right-wing faction, of the height of irresponsibility, being willing to throw a wrench in the economy and hurt people, because they couldn't accept a law and wanted to re-fight the last presidential election.

Democrats have decided it is better to fight this battle now, rather than go through exactly the same thing in a couple of weeks' time over the debt ceiling, which all economists agree would have far more serious consequences.

When Teddy Roosevelt talked of the presidential "bully" pulpit, he was simply using the slang of the day for "very good". It is still true that it is easier to preach from the White House than Capitol Hill - and the Republicans aren't really even trying to make a case, except to their own supporters.

That may make good sense for individuals who want to court the right, or hang on to their seats rather than face de-selection battles next year. But it is not good news for the party as a whole.

This is an important moment and, if no-one blinks before midnight, the days ahead will test the mettle of politicians on both sides.

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