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Obama's worst week ever

It didn't take much guessing to predict who was going to win -- if "win" is the right word -- the Washington Post's weekly pick for "Worst Week in Washington": President Barack Obama.

If any week has made the POTUS wonder why he ever wanted this job, this was it.

Shortly after he and Congress dodged the default bullet with their cobbled-together debt deal, both were smacked with a backlash in the polls. The public found the deal to be as welcome as pond scum.

Other polls found the battleground states Florida and Pennsylvania, which voted for Obama in 2008, turning against him now.

Then the stock market collapsed into its worst days since 2008. A new jobs report showed more new jobs than expected, but not enough to lower the unemployment rate below 9 percent.

And as the week drew to a close, Standard & Poor's dropped the nation's credit rating a notch for the first time in history, ranking our creditworthiness below such industrial giants as Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and the Isle of Man.

His only consolation: Election Day is still almost 15 months away. Until then, his work is cut out for him.

What's loud and clear is the message from his core supporters and many independent swing voters: Face reality. Toughen up. No more Mr. Nice Obama.

Louder than ever one hears a complaint that has haunted him since his candidacy: He gives away too much, even before negotiations begin. The result? He gets slammed for his losses and everybody forgets about his victories.

In hard economic times, the public looks for a leader who will speak and lead with confidence. But Obama backed away from a big stimulus package -- despite the advice of Nobel Prize-winning Keynesian economists -- and diluted what was left with tax cuts that went unappreciated by Republicans. The stimulus worked, but only partly, as a half-stepping stimulus was expected to work. It helped to save the auto industry, for example. But otherwise Team Obama is left to say only that things would have been worse had he not acted at all. That's probably true, but hardly inspiring enough to put on a campaign bumper sticker.

Swing voters like compromise, so they say, but that sounds so last century for this Congress. Obama's Tea Party-enflamed opposition sees compromise as a sign of weakness, politically and personally, in these polarized times.

Michael Tomasky, writing in Newsweek and the Daily Beast, sees Obama's problem as less psychological than philosophical: a naive belief in a civic virtue that his more Machiavellian opposition happily steamrolls like an elephant on a thin-crust pizza. "So now what? He has to change," says Tomasky.

Good point. Obama's appeal to reason is noble and his outreach to swing voters is essential, but not at the expense of the clearly-stated goals, principles and positions that he needs to organize and inspire his base.

As a frustrated former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming said after his fellow Republicans refused to budge on Obama's "balanced approach" -- the sort of balance for which Simpson called as co-chief of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission -- "If you can't learn to compromise an issue without compromising yourself then you shouldn't be a legislator."

That's what Obama's base is telling him about being a leader. Voters admire a president who can compromise without compromising himself or, someday, herself. But first they want to know what the president believes. Before they move up off their couches to go vote, they want to know what kind of a difference the person they're voting for is going to make.

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