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No more Mr. Nice President

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Nothing sobers up a president faster than the real prospect of losing a re-election battle. For the past three years, President Obama’s critics on the left have chided him for not taking on the Republicans more forcefully.

Remember Senate Minority Leader’s Mitch McConnell’s declaration that the GOP’s “single most important goal” was to make Obama a one-term president? After Obama’s 2010 victory on health care reform, which the Republicans deftly turned into a liability, the GOP has demonstrated almost unrestrained glee in thwarting Obama’s agenda at every opportunity. Senate Republicans have done their part by allowing dozens of would-be judges and other proposed for senior government positions to languish  in nomination purgatory.

If Obama ever thinks about unleashing his inner Rahm Emanuel, he manages to hide it well. Instead, Obama delivered an iron-fist-in-velvet glove State of the Union address last night thinly disguised as his first salvo of the campaign season.  

Obama targeted the middle class, with pledges to tax top earners more heavily, offer tax breaks to businesses that create jobs in the US, and improve training and education for American workers, WBUR reports.

The National Review posse analyzes last night’s “State of Denial” address. The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes was underwhelmed while a colleague found snippets from this year’s address were echoes of previous State of the Union speeches by President Obama. The speech, which revives a bid to tax millionaires, clearly targets Mitt Romney.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called the address “confrontation wrapped in Kumbaya.”  Obama railed that last summer’s debt ceiling embarrassment was “a fiasco,” declared that he would “fight obstruction with action,” and would bore ahead with measures to boost the economy “with or without Congress.”

Sharp-elbowed” was the verdict of Talking Points Memo’s Brian Beutler. He noted that Obama criticized those who would have let the American auto industry collapse (here’s looking at you Mitt) and “let the foreclosure crisis run its course” (finger pointed at Mitt).  For good measure, the president had Debbie Bosanek, Warren Buffett’s secretary, in the house, to illustrate the absurdity of a tax code that has her paying a higher tax rate than her billionaire boss. Or the former Massachusetts governor.

The Los Angeles Times labeled the speech “more confrontational” than Bill Clinton’s address going into his re-election campaign. Over at The Daily Beast, Howard Kurtz called Obama’s effort “aggressive,” yet others like Andrew Sullivan were much less impressed.

Though Obama’s approval ratings have inched up, presidents typically don’t get much of a “bounce” from the most high profile speech on their calendars (especially this year when there are Mitt Romney’s tax returns to pore over). But they do get to look presidential. Which is more than anyone can say for Romney, who is being compared at least once a day to fictional Wall Street insider Gordon Gekko, or Newt Gingrich, who is living up to the description offered by  Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal columnist, and former Reagan speechwriter, of “an angry little attack muffin.”


                                                                                                                                                        --GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

Suddenly, smart on crime seems to be everybody’s mantra, CommonWealth reports. The MetroWest Daily News says sentencing reforms are “overdue.”  The Globe account of yesterday’s rally/hearing by opponents of the pending three-strikes sentencing bill suggests lawmakers are not moved by the critique.  

Secretary of State William Galvin goes toe to toe with South Coast officials at a hearing that would strip the Massachusetts Historical Commission of some of its powers, CommonWealth reports. To get the full background, here’s the original CommonWealth story.

Legislative leaders won’t commit to Gov. Deval Patrick’s local aid hike.

The sister of late Middlesex County Sheriff James DiPaola will pay a $4,000 fine to settle a campaign finance investigation.

The head of the Rose Kennedy Greenway emails her PR adviser asking whether to blow off a Herald reporter’s inquiries about her salary, except that she accidentally sends the email to the Herald reporter. We know what Rick Perry would say in a situation like this.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Most cities and towns see declines in unemployment.

Hull officials will await a decision from the federal Department of Energy on whether a consulting deal with former US Rep. William Delahunt passes the ethical smell test before signing the agreement.

It happens even to school superintendents. While the Methuen school superintendent was in New York, her daughter had some friends over. When lots of uninvited people showed up, the police had to break up the party, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Methuen City Council settles a sex harassment suit against a former city solicitor by agreeing to pay a $250,000 settlement, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Cambridge still hasn’t filled its ceremonial mayor’s office.

South Hadley’s town administrator resigned abruptly, and no one is saying why.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

JFK tapes reveal income inequality was an issue on his mind, WBUR’s Radio Boston reports. They also show he was worried about his reelection prospects, says the Globe.

Out-of-state money pours into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign account to help him fend off a recall effort, Governing reports (via AP).

ELECTION 2012

The Adelsons buy Newt Gingrich a new attack ad to air in Florida, and it goes after Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care law, complete with smiling pictures of Romney and Ted Kennedy.

The Globe’s Brian Mooney reports that Romney stands to benefit from his campaign’s early effort with those voting by absentee ballot in Florida.  

To read Romney’s tax returns, click here. The New York Times compares Romney’s tax returns to Obama’s and Gingrich’s, while the Atlantic compares Romney’s tax rate to presidential candidates past; it’s worth noting that John Kerry paid less in 2003. The Romney campaign seems to be on edge over taxes: Hours after a campaign aide told reporters Romney
might be open to rescinding a tax break that helped make him rich, the campaign backpedals.
For some reason, Mitt compares banks to people.

“Seldom have Democrats had more vulnerable Republicans to epitomize how the GOP harms the average person,” writes Robert Kuttner in the American Prospect.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Greater Boston wants to know: Are you paying your fair share of taxes?

Five years ago, Apple’s iPhone and iPad didn’t exist, and now, the devices are 75 percent of the company.

EDUCATION

A national education group applauds Massachusetts for gains made in preparing and supervising teachers, the Lowell Sun reports.

Leaders of state community colleges offer a mixed reaction to Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to centralize oversight of the 15 campuses and put their focus squarely on job training:  They welcome the attention, but not necessarily the firmer state hand. The Cape Cod Times account is here. the Berkshire Eagle, praising Berkshire Community College, says that the state has to be mindful not to try and fix what isn’t broken.

Time reports on how state cutbacks in higher education are forcing students to bear more of the the burden of college costs.

HEALTH CARE

The state will close the Taunton State Hospital, the only residential facility for the mentally ill in the South Coast and Cape region, and shift the patients to Tewksbury and a new facility in Worcester by the end of the year.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A report from two advocacy groups shows the drinking water sources for nearly 5 million Massachusetts residents are within 50 miles of a nuclear reactor, though the Pilgrim power plant in Plymouth is the state’s sole nuclear facility.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A New Bedford couple was arrested in the Hanson commuter rail parking lot for allegedly cutting off and stealing catalytic converters from cars. MBTA police said they believe the couple is responsible for hundreds of thefts of the converters, which are a target because of the precious metals they contain.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark Rockefeller, will stand trial on charges that he killed the son of his former landlady in San Marino, California, in 1985, a judge ruled yesterday.

MEDIA

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s failed run for the Republican presidential nomination was a bonanza for the Texas Tribune, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

The Eagle-Tribune, in an editorial, defends Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. By contrast, the Salem News says he lacks class and courtesy. Jim Braude on NECN criticizes the puck stopper.

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