During his town hall meeting in Racine, WI, President Barack Obama used the bully pulpit to bludgeon the Republican Senators in Congress who blocked an extension of benefits for jobless Americans, “So their prescription for every challenge is pretty much the same basically cut taxes for the wealthy, cut rules for corporations, and cut working folks loose to fend for themselves.”
Obama first described the basic legislation he wants passed, “And that’s why I’ve been fighting, in addition to everything we’ve done, for additional steps to speed up this recovery and keep the economy growing. We want an extension of unemployment benefits for workers who lost their job through no fault of their own. We want to help small business owners get the loans they need to keep their doors open and hire more workers. We want relief for struggling states so they don’t have to lay off thousands of teachers and firefighters and police officers.”
Later he described the political calculus behind the GOP’s obstruction, “Now, some of this is just politics. That’s the nature of Washington. Before I was even inaugurated, there were leaders on the other side of the aisle who got together and they made the calculation that if Obama fails, then we win. Right — that was the basic theory. They figured if we just keep on saying no to everything and nothing gets done, then somehow people will forget who got us into this mess in the first place and we’ll get more votes in November. And, you know, that will make people pretty cynical about politics.”
In a matter of fairness, he discussed the GOP’s ideological flaws, “Now, let’s be fair though. The other party’s opposition is also rooted in some sincere beliefs about how they think the economy works. They think that our economy will do better if we just let the banks or the oil companies or the insurance industry make their own rules. They still believe that, even after the Wall Street crash, even after the BP oil well blew, that we should just keep a hands-off attitude. They think we should keep doing what we did for most of the last decade leading up to the recession.”
Obama returned to a theme of 2008 nomination acceptance speech, “ So their prescription for every challenge is pretty much the same — and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here — basically cut taxes for the wealthy, cut rules for corporations, and cut working folks loose to fend for themselves. Basically their attitude is, you’re on your own.”
He concluded by reframing the discussion not as big government versus small government, but as responsible versus irresponsible government, “So I want everybody to understand, this debate that we’re having in Washington is not about big government or small government. It’s about responsible government. It’s about accountable government. It’s about whose side government is on. It should be on the side of the American people. A government that breaks down barriers to opportunity and prosperity. That’s the kind of government we need. That’s the kind of government I’m trying to give you.”
Obama’s remarks today demonstrated his growth as a president. The uncertain grasp of the bully pulpit that characterized many of his first year speeches has been replaced with the language of a man who knows the reach and impact of the words of a president. A president should shine the bright light of the presidency of the Senate Republicans who are callously hurting the unemployed in their quest for angry votes of support in November. Obama did what a good president does. He spoke for the American people.
The president masterfully reframed the discussion. He shifted the discussion out of the Republican arena of big versus small government towards asking a very simple question. Whose side are the Republicans on? When the Republicans do things like support BP after the oil spill in the Gulf by opposing a lifting of liability caps, they are making it clear whose interests they will represent if they are returned to power. When Republicans block extending unemployment benefits to the jobless, it makes it clear that they are not on the side of those Americans who are struggling.
The great hope of the GOP strategy for November is that voters are so angry that they forget about the incompetence and unaccountability of the Republican Party during their previous era of mismanagement. Their desire is not to provide solutions to America’s problems, but to return themselves to what they view as their rightful place atop the government. Their belief in a government by the special interests for the special interests is the reason why they are out of step with the American people on most issues, and it is the exact reason why their dreams of a congressional takeover are likely to turn to dust by November. Obama has shown his fellow Democrats the path, now they must follow it in elections all across the country this November.
A full transcript of Obama’s speech can be found here.