By Robert Borosage, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future
For many months, the president chose not to engage this battle of
ideas in the futile pursuit of bipartisan agreement. That began to
change last Fall, when the President finally put forth his American Jobs
Act and stumped for it across the country.
Now, in his recent speech to the United Auto Workers, the president
is beginning to draw the line -- and develop the themes that will help
frame the election. The entire speech
is worth reading. Republicans immediately accused the president of
delivering a campaign speech. Shocking, gambling in Casablanca. Here's
the core of the argument:
President Obama: "Let me tell you, I keep on
hearing these same folks talk about values all the time. You want to
talk about values? Hard work -- that’s a value. (Applause.) Looking
out for one another -- that’s a value. The idea that we're all in it
together, and I'm my brother's keeper and sister's keeper -- that’s a
They're out there talking about you like you're some special
interest that needs to be beaten down. Since when are hardworking men
and women who are putting in a hard day's work every day -- since when
are they special interests? Since when is the idea that we look out for
one another a bad thing?
I remember my old friend, Ted Kennedy -- he used to say, what is
it about working men and women they find so offensive? (Laughter.)
This notion that we should have let the auto industry die, that we
should pursue anti-worker policies in the hopes that unions like yours
will buckle and unravel -– that’s part of that same old "you are on your
own" philosophy that says we should just leave everybody to fend for
themselves; let the most powerful do whatever they please. They think
the best way to boost the economy is to roll back the reforms we put
into place to prevent another crisis, to let Wall Street write the rules
They think the best way to help families afford health care is to
roll back the reforms we passed that’s already lowering costs for
millions of Americans. (Applause.) They want to go back to the days
when insurance companies could deny your coverage or jack up your rates
whenever and however they pleased. They think we should keep cutting
taxes for those at the very top, for people like me, even though we
don’t need it, just so they can keep paying lower tax rates than their
Well, let me tell you something. Not to put too fine a point on
it -- they’re wrong. (Laughter.) They are wrong. (Applause.) That’s
the philosophy that got us into this mess. We can’t afford to go back
to it. Not now.
We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a long way to go before
everybody who wants a good job can get a good job. We’ve got a long way
to go before middle-class Americans fully regain that sense of security
that’s been slipping away since long before this recession hit. But
you know what, we’ve got something to show -- all of you show what’s
possible when we pull together.
Over the last two years, our businesses have added about 3.7
million new jobs. Manufacturing is coming back for the first time since
the 1990s. Companies are bringing jobs back from overseas.
(Applause.) The economy is getting stronger. The recovery is speeding
up. Now is the time to keep our foot on the gas, not put on the brakes.
And I’m not going to settle for a country where just a few do really well and everybody else is struggling to get by. (Applause.)
We’re fighting for an economy where everybody gets a fair shot,
where everybody does their fair share, where everybody plays by the same
set of rules. We’re not going to go back to an economy that’s all
about outsourcing and bad debt and phony profits. We’re fighting for an
economy that’s built to last, that’s built on things like education and
energy and manufacturing. Making things, not just buying things --
making things that the rest of the world wants to buy. And restoring
the values that made this country great: hard work and fair play, the
chance to make it if you really try, the responsibility to reach back
and help somebody else make it, too -- not just you. That’s who we are.
That’s what we believe in. (Applause.)
The president is still too optimistic about how far we've come.
America is not back, and folks are likely to think he's out of touch
when he says so. More emphasis on fighting to keep us going is vital
since we're headed into a brutal debate about pre-mature austerity that
could be ruinous to any recovery. And its easy to be cynical about
presidential rhetoric as opposed to performance.
That said, America is going to face a big choice this election. And
the president is starting to define it in far more compelling terms than