Political Animal


September 23, 2011 10:40 AM ‘A warrior for the middle class’

By Steve Benen

It was a busy news day for the political world yesterday, and President Obama’s speech in Cincinnati was largely overlooked. That’s a shame — the remarks were actually an example of the White House message coming together in ways we haven’t heard before.

The president spoke with the Brent Spence Bridge in the background, a main connecting point for Ohio and Kentucky. Obama joked that it was “purely accidental” that he picked a locale relevant to the constituents of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but it was obviously not a coincidence — the president is presenting infrastructure investments as the centerpiece of his economic agenda, and that the fact that the Brent Spence Bridge has been deemed “functionally obsolete” — like John Boehner, one audience member shouted out — helps underscore the larger point.

But the speech didn’t just make an effective case for creating jobs by improving bridges, roads, highways, rails, and airports. He also did so by naming names and calling out “Republicans.”

“So my question is, what’s Congress waiting for? Why is it taking so long? … Part of the reason I came here is because Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, those are the two most powerful Republicans in government. They can either kill this jobs bill, or they can help pass this jobs bill…. I know that when Senator McConnell visited the closed bridge in Kentucky, he said that, ‘Roads and bridges are not partisan in Washington.’ That’s great. I know that Paul Ryan, the Republican in charge of the budget process, recently said that ‘you can’t deny that infrastructure does creates jobs.’ That’s what he said.

“Well, if that’s the case, there’s no reason for Republicans in Congress to stand in the way of more construction projects. There’s no reason to stand in the way of more jobs. Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge. Help us rebuild America. Help us put construction workers back to work. Pass this bill.”

Obama also responded to the most common GOP talking point.

“Now, the Republicans, when I talked about this earlier in the week, they said, well, this is class warfare. You know what, if asking a billionaire to pay their fair share of taxes, to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare, then you know what, I’m a warrior for the middle class. I’m happy to fight for the middle class. I’m happy to fight for working people. Because the only warfare I’ve seen is the battle against the middle class over the last 10, 15 years.”

And he specifically called out McConnell’s misguided priorities.

“Maybe some of the people in Congress would rather settle their differences at the ballot box than work together right now. In fact, a while back, Senator McConnell said that his ‘top priority’ — number-one priority — was ‘to defeat the President.’ That was his top priority.

“Not jobs, not putting people back to work, not rebuilding America. Beating me. Well, I’ve got news for him, and every other member of Congress who feels the same way. The next election is 14 months away, and I’ll be happy to tangle sometime down the road. But the American people right now don’t have the luxury of waiting to solve our problems for another 14 months. A lot of folks are living paycheck to paycheck. A lot of folks are just barely getting by. They need us to get to work right now. They need us to pass this bill.”

It’s awfully difficult to have any optimism at all about the political process, especially with House Republicans poised to force another shutdown crisis. But there’s little doubt that the White House is very serious about the American Jobs Act, and is going all in, investing time, energy, and resources into this effort. Those hoping for real follow through from Obama are getting their wish.

And nearly as important, the president and his team are also sharpening their message — “I’m a warrior for the middle class” is a great, overdue line — and taking the fight to Republicans, directly and aggressively.

As a practical matter, a speech delivered at 3 p.m. on a weekday in Southwestern Ohio is going to have a limited audience. But that’s all the more reason for the White House to keep the pressure on, bringing the message to even more audiences.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • James Conner on September 23, 2011 10:50 AM:

    Obama needs to explain why higher taxes for rich people are fair. Elizabeth Warren's response to accusations of class warfare provides the arguments that Obama needs to make.

  • c u n d gulag on September 23, 2011 10:54 AM:

    "I'm a Warrior for the Middle Class!" as a great motto for the President.

    And it stands in great contrast to the Republican
    one of "I'm a "Go-fer" For the Upper Class!"

    This is what ALL Democrats need to start to say:
    'We Are Warriers For the Middle Class!"
    And back it up!!!

    And paint Republicans as "The 'Go-fers' For the Upper Class!"

  • Stonedwino on September 23, 2011 10:55 AM:

    Not much will be accomplished until after the 2012 election given the GOP posture. The President and Democrats need to continue to hammer at the jobs message and just gibe the GOP all the rope they want....the rest will take care of itself next November. The Republicans are too blinded by their dumbass ideologies to read the tea leaves - they are going the way of the Whigs and don't even realize it.

  • mmm on September 23, 2011 11:10 AM:

    This is the kind of rhetoric that scores... clear, concise, specific. "We know who you are and where you live" is a bold strategy that puts the pressure on, no matter how "cool" Republicans try to portray themselves. Getting right in their neighborhood ... super! More of this, please.

  • Goldilocks on September 23, 2011 11:12 AM:

    Great political jujitsu. Give your opponent all the time they need to show what they're made of. When you see they're up to no good, decimate them without mercy. Fabulous.

  • stevio on September 23, 2011 11:12 AM:

    "warrior of the middle class" Obama better keep-up the warrioring because there are too many skeptics out there that he himself created via rhetoric that was used and never followed up on. His propensity to launch ideas and leave them to wilt has gotten him to where he is today: a weak leader in search of his lost base.

    I, for one, hope he follows through on this one. If not ,that's it for me.

    Nomination fight would be the only alternative. it's too embarrassing for the middle class to loose an election against the likes of Perry or Romney...

  • AMS on September 23, 2011 11:13 AM:

    Haven't you noticed? The media has already written off Obama. They aren't going to cover anything he does---they're too busy salivating about the complete Republican take-over of government next year. It's always "glass half empty" with anything the President does--"Will Obama's jobs bill REALLY create jobs?" "Is Obama's jobs bill too little, too late?" And then they wonder why his job approval rating keeps going down.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on September 23, 2011 11:14 AM:

    the fact that the Brent Spence Bridge has been deemed "functionally obsolete" like John Boehner, one audience member shouted out - helps underscore the larger point

    So now the False Equivalency Brigade will play up the fact that Obama didn't speak up in a full-throated defense of Boehner's relevance. Republicans are OK with booing gay soldiers; the President is OK with heckling the Speaker in absentia. Same thing, right?

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on September 23, 2011 11:16 AM:

    Back on the main point, this class warfare stuff must be focus grouping well. That's great, and not surprising. If the public believes Republicans are even as much to blame for their economic woes, it's pretty much game, set, and match.

  • Ray Waldren on September 23, 2011 11:17 AM:

    Anybody notice the speed of traffic & the amount of traffic on that bridge at 3 PM on a weekday -- what would be like at 5 or 6 PM during the "rush hour"?

  • r on September 23, 2011 11:20 AM:

    if he gives this speech from now until the election, he'll win.

  • r on September 23, 2011 11:21 AM:

    He should also reference the Clinton years, IMHO.

  • TR on September 23, 2011 11:24 AM:

    He's doing his part -- but we need to do ours.

    Write your congresspeople, no matter what party they're in and urge them to get behind this bill or pay the price in the next election. (And *write* them. Emails don't matter, and phone calls barely register. And actual letter is HUGE.)

  • SW on September 23, 2011 11:30 AM:

    The mission is to use the bully pulpit to make it socially unacceptable to be a Republican. That should have been the goal from day one and the implosion of the economy and the Iraq War could have made it a much easier task than it is today.

    The challenge is to make it clear to the majority that the economy 'died of a theory'. That what killed the economy was free market fundamentalism. That what we are witnessing today is pretty much like the last ten minutes of a game of monopoly. When one or two of the players own all the property and the rest of us suckers land on their shit every time we roll the dice. The unequal distribution of wealth has captured the political process which has created a feedback loop. Until finally wealth is so concentrated that demand is strangled. You can only sell so many private jets, mansions and pairs of mink jockey shorts.

    We had a real opportunity for a teaching moment back in 2008. Instead we got bipartisan mush. Well, better late than never I guess.

  • stormskies on September 23, 2011 11:34 AM:

    Largely overlooked ? Of course, just like the 'little peoples' protest on Wall Street .......... of course ...

  • Bob M on September 23, 2011 11:38 AM:

    Good stuff! Can't wait for the campaign!

  • Francis on September 23, 2011 11:43 AM:

    Agree 100% Steve.

    The question now is if the whiny Left will get behind him now that he is doing exactly what they have been complaining about all these months. They should.

    But so many of my friends are still stuck in their old memes of Obama the Wimp (I still hear people griping about the Public Option...he didn't have the votes people!!!)

  • Trollop on September 23, 2011 11:50 AM:

    Stevio could not have said it any better.

  • SW on September 23, 2011 12:03 PM:

    'The question now is if the whiny Left will get behind him now that he is doing exactly what they have been complaining about all these months. They should'.

    I just think that is utter nonsense. If you believe his main problem is the left you really have no political instincts what so ever. If he continues this line of attack, the left, the real left not posers in their mother's basements but the people who actually do the work will be in his pocket and protecting his back. It is the so called 'centrists' that he has been trying so hard to court these past two years who will sell him out for a nickels worth of budget cuts.

  • Trollopo the clown on September 23, 2011 12:12 PM:

    ..Except for the "loose" interpretation.. I love the Rand Paul "booh" and the smile at the Boehner jab. The MSM will not pick this stuff up because they are owned and operated by the interests that don't like the socialism of bridges and tax revenue and stuff like that..

  • Old Uncle Dave on September 23, 2011 12:13 PM:

    So we've got the Boner & McConnell fighting for the upper class and Obama fighting for the middle class.
    Who fights for the working class and the poor? Where is their champion?

  • low-tech cyclist on September 23, 2011 12:23 PM:

    You know what would be a great piece of political theatre? For the Dems to hire a Boehner impersonator and a McConnell impersonator, and have them give a short speech at the same site, demanding a la Reagan to Gorbachev:

    "Mr. Obama, tear down this bridge."

    Then the impersonators can step aside, and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown can step to the podium and say that this is, in effect, what Republicans like Boehner and McConnell are demanding: that bridges, roads, and water and sewer pipes all across this country be left to crumble and fall down, rather than borrowing money at essentially zero interest to build things back up again, and put Americans back to work.

    "Republicans keep talking about how America is the greatest country on earth. We believe that too. But how can a country be great if it can't even fix its roads and bridges and water and sewer systems when they're falling apart?

    "They say we can't do this. That's saying we're no longer a great nation. We say they're wrong - we are still the greatest nation on earth, we most certainly CAN afford to fix things that are breaking down, and with your help, we will do these things.

    "Right now, the Republicans control Congress. We hope that they will come to their senses, and help us pass legislation that would empower us to fix our roads and bridges and water and sewer systems, update our aging power grid, and otherwise help us build the infrastructure we'll need to continue to prosper as we move towards midcentury. But if they don't, we will be back to ask your help in voting them out of office and replacing them with Democrats who believe our best days are still ahead.

    "Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America."

  • SYSPROG on September 23, 2011 12:27 PM:

    Busy newday my ass...the MSM found time to talk ad nauseum about the GOP 'debate' in Florida, analyze it and guess what might happen. They had time to say OMIGOD THE STOCK MARKET IS CRASHING. They could cover the GOPs shameless attack ONE MORE TIME on those people that need help the MOST (the cr and cutting benefits to pay for it) but they couldn't cover the President's speech or what is happening in Europe? This is just 'too bad because it was an important speech. This is OUR COUNTRY IS GOING DOWN A HOLE AND YOU MORONS PICK AND CHOOSE 'NEWS'...

  • square1 on September 23, 2011 1:15 PM:

    Too funny. I guess Obama found his comfortable working-class shoes...just in time for election season.

    Don't get me wrong. This is EXACTLY what Obama needs to say if he wants to win re-election. Liberal rhetoric sells. Liberal policies sell. Great message.

    Personally, I don't by it for a second. "Fool me once" and all that... But Obama certainly demonstrates that he has a master touch for campaigning.