Sep 092010

Article first published as Obama Comes Out Swinging in Cleveland on Technorati.

Yesterday in Cleveland, President Obama came out of his corner swinging. Pundits have been counting the President out of late, but if he was beaten and bruised when he entered the ring today, he shook it off like Rocky Balboa.

Speaking at the Cuyahoga Community College West Campus in Parma, Ohio, he had barely finished his opening remarks when he lit into the GOP. Immediately on offense, Obama tore into the opposition by blasting their 8-year reign with a political philosophy that clearly was and still is — government for the elite few.

According to Obama, he ran for president in order to correct what the Republican philosophy has wrought. The President started with a four punch combination: first were their tax cuts — “especially for millionaires and billionaires,” which he immediately followed with their deregulation — “for special interests.” Then a body blow on their trade deals — “even if they didn’t benefit our workers,” and another punch to the gut on cutting back investment — “in our people and in our future – in education and clean energy, in research and technology.” He followed the combo with an overhand smash, that demanded acknowledgement from anyone listening, “The idea was that if we just had blind faith in the market, if we let corporations play by their own rules, if we left everyone else to fend for themselves that America would grow and America would prosper.” And thus the tempo of the fight was set, and the contrast in philosophy defined.

What did America get with all those “sound” Republican policies? As the President termed it, the people got “the illusion of prosperity.” Obama briefly commiserated with the Buckeye audience who has been hurt so badly through job loss, stating that job growth during the Bush years was slower than in any economic expansion since WW2 — and he added — “slower than it’s been over the last year.” The President finished the picture by recalling how income for the middle class stagnated while costs climbed, especially for tuition and healthcare. He also linked this dynamic of lower wages and higher costs to the reactive increase in personal debt that paid for the “illusion.” And with the Republicans on the ropes, the President added that their failure to pay for two wars and two tax cuts for the wealthy had turned a record budget surplus into a record deficit.

Thus began the final 8-week countdown to Election 2010. President Obama was in fighting trim, or campaign form as the case may be. He started by drawing the contrast between left and right and then punctuated his entire speech with references to the America he believes in, “An America that took pride in the goods that we made, not just the things we consumed. An America where a rising tide really did lift all boats, from the company CEO to the guy on the assembly line.” That America demands patriotism, but the President left no doubt that the America that had lost 4 million jobs in the 6 months prior to his taking office no longer upheld those values, and he didn’t pull any punches in assigning responsibility.

Not only did the President attack Republican policies for creating the recession, an assertion that conservatives may be tired of hearing but one that is undeniable nonetheless, but he also drove the point home that they have deliberately delayed the recovery. He cited the success of the Stimulus in that it has created “roughly 3 million” jobs, but also spoke of how the Republicans had fought its passing and chose instead to ride the “fear and anger all the way to Election Day.” And once again, Obama called upon the name of John Boehner, the new face of the Republican Party, and the plan that he recently shared for America — “the same philosophy that we had already tried during the decade that they were in power — the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place: Cut more taxes for millionaires and cut more rules for corporations.”

President Obama made crystal clear that the distinction between Democrats and Republicans is really about the strengthening or demise of the middle class, and he hammered the case over and again throughout his speech: the Republicans fight for insurance companies to be able to refuse coverage for preexisting conditions, for corporations to be able to move jobs overseas, for banks to be able to raise interest rates at will, and for tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans. They fight for higher corporate profits and the lower wages that help create them, and they believe in the market over democracy.

In the President’s eyes, Democrats essentially take the opposing position on each of these issues and believe instead in “a vibrant free market, but one that works for everybody.” They contend that government should support the middle class so that, in Obama words, “if they work hard and meet their responsibilities, they can afford to raise their children, and send them to college, see a doctor when they get sick, retire with dignity and respect.” Obama called upon the words of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, to summarize the Democrat’s position, “I also believe that government should do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves.” Democrats don’t want “big government” — they want effective government.

This is exactly the message the Democrats need to carry to America for the next two months. The lines are now clearly drawn. The Republicans say they’re for small business but fight against legislation that sends them aid in the form of tax cuts and improved access to financing. They say that the main issue for America is jobs, yet they fight spending to create them in order to protect loopholes that send them overseas. They contend that they support the middle class, yet in the President’s words, they “hold middle-class tax cuts hostage” in order to protect cuts for the top 2%. They feign concern for the deficit while refusing to cut defense and simultaneously adding the $700 billion cost for their “wealth-fare” tax cuts.

The President did take time to plug his 6-year infrastructure investment plan and to introduce a proposal to extend tax credits to businesses for 100% of their 2011 capital investments. Also on the table is an expansion of the research and development tax credit from 14% to 17%. All of these proposals would typically be acceptable to Republicans, but as the President suggested in reference to their opposition to the small business tax cuts supported by the Chamber of Commerce, “the only reason they’re holding this up is politics, pure and simple.” Should Americans really place their trust in a party that would deliberately sacrifice the wellbeing of the country for their own personal gain?

The choice couldn’t be more clear, once the thick overburden of misinformation is pulled back and the facts revealed. But the Democrats now find themselves in an uphill climb to set the record straight. They will be well served to follow the President’s lead and draw upon the distinct differences between party philosophies. They can do no better than to frame the conversation as did President Obama — what we now need is to return to “the time-honored values that built this country: hard work and self-reliance; responsibility for ourselves, but also responsibility for one another. It’s about moving from an attitude that said ‘What’s in it for me?’ to one that asks, What’s best for America? What’s best for all our workers? What’s best for all of our businesses? What’s best for all of our children?”

The text of the speech is available at the New York Times. You can also watch the entire speech at

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