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September 06, 2011 8:00 AM POTUS shows some fight in Detroit

By Steve Benen

President Obama recognized Labor Day by speaking at an AFL-CIO event at a GM plant in Detroit, and the White House billed the event as helping set the stage for Thursday’s Joint Session speech. If that’s true, there’s cause for some optimism about what we’ll hear in the address.

Obama, appearing rather fired up, spoke at some length about the importance of the labor movement and the role or unions in helping “lay these cornerstones of the American middle class.” He also took some time to highlight his administration’s successes in strengthening the middle class.

But most notably, the president offered “just a little bit” on the “new way forward” he’ll present to Congress this week. Not surprisingly, details were scarce, but Obama specifically referenced infrastructure investments and the payroll tax cut.

“I’m going to propose ways to put America back to work that both parties can agree to, because I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems. And given the urgency of this moment, given the hardship that many people are facing, folks have got to get together.

“But we’re not going to wait for them. We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party. We’ll give them a plan, and then we’ll say, ‘Do you want to create jobs? Then put our construction workers back to work rebuilding America. Do you want to help our companies succeed? Open up new markets for them to sell their products. You say you’re the party of tax cuts? Well then, prove you’ll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle-class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans. Show us what you got.’

“The time for Washington games is over. The time for action is now. No more manufactured crises. No more games. Now is not the time for the people you sent to Washington to worry about their jobs; now is the time for them to worry about your jobs.”

This is entirely consistent with the strategy that’s been coming together in recent weeks: Obama doesn’t intend to ask Congress to focus on job creation; he intends to challenge Congress to focus on job creation. If Republicans refuse — as appears all but certain — the point is to start sharing the blame. Obama presented a credible plan with popular ideas, the argument will go, but the GOP didn’t care. “I tried to make the economy better,” the president will argue, “but Republicans refused to work with me.”

The message to voters, then, becomes, “Want someone to blame? Start with the folks who sat on their hands while the economy deteriorated.”

And when it comes to tone and a fighting spirit, if Thursday’s speech sounds anything like Monday’s speech, the president’s agenda will at least get off on the right foot.

It’s also worth noting that Obama has at least one other event scheduled this week, taking his jobs agenda to Richmond, Virginia, on Friday. That’s a good move — if the White House is going to change the politics at all, one speech to Congress is going to have to be part of a larger offensive.

Paul Krugman added yesterday about the president, “[W]hat he mostly needs to do now is to change the conversation — to get Washington talking again about jobs and how the government can help create them.”

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.

Comments

  • DAY on September 06, 2011 8:09 AM:

    You forgot to mention the sudden shortage of fainting couches and smelling salts in Tea Party districts, due to Mr Hoffa calling them "sons of bitches". . .

  • c u n d gulag on September 06, 2011 8:13 AM:

    "...to get Washington talking again about jobs and how the government can help create them.”

    Well, that would be a refreshing change from the usual deficit and attrition BS we keep hearing everyday - and not just from Republicans, either

    Turning around "The Reagan De-evolution" will take time, money, and effort.
    But it'll never happen if we don't start somtime somewhere.

  • steve duncan on September 06, 2011 8:19 AM:

    There will be one huge consolation if the unthinkable happens and Rick Perry gets elected President. He can organize a national Prayer Day, beseeching God for an improved economy and jobs for everyone. After all, it worked so well for the Texas drought.

  • NHCt on September 06, 2011 8:22 AM:

    Sounds like Obama will be pushing for payroll tax cut extension,free trade pacts and an infrastructure bank. So nothing new and particularly bold. This is why I'm losing patience with him. Sure, he can act fired up, but can he actually be bold when that's what is called for?

  • Stevio on September 06, 2011 8:23 AM:

    He'll challenge the GOP in rhetoric and then backslide into a wimp-a-saurous as he's done each time the GOP balks. This weak-kneed torture-forgiving POTUS needs a stiff primary fight and hopefully he'll grow some balls and begin to defend the people who placed him into the White House. I'm not holding my breath...

  • Live Free or Die on September 06, 2011 8:24 AM:

    @ Day:
    "You forgot to mention the sudden shortage of fainting couches and smelling salts in Tea Party districts, due to Mr Hoffa calling them "sons of bitches". . .

    Fuck the media. How about that for being uncivilized? After the media stood mute when Obama was being called a Kenyan socialist Muslim who was not born here. After Death Panels, this is what they fainting over? Obama should ignore the media, unless he wants to be a one term president. Obama actually used the word Republican instead of Congress or Washington. More of this Obama, please.

  • martin on September 06, 2011 8:26 AM:

    If Republicans refuse — as appears all but certain — the point is to start sharing the blame.

    If Obama is going to propose something dramatic and useful, one hopes he is going to start Placing the blame--on the GOP-- if nothing happens. If he is proposing the usual tax cuts and patent reforms, then yeah, the blame is his to share.

    Mr Captcha descripes it as collecting ojingli

  • Alli on September 06, 2011 8:28 AM:

    OMG! Steve, enough with the Paul Krugman quotes. please. He can talk economics but he don't know jack on politics. Obama will be Obama. Too many people keep underestimating him.

  • Brenna on September 06, 2011 8:29 AM:

    ...I'm going to propose ways to put America back to work that both parties can agree to, because I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems...

    I sure hope he doesn't really believe both sides can work together. Republicans can't and won't. And if Obama hasn't figured this out, he deserves to lose.

    I'll stick behind him, but speeches MUST result in some action. Bruce Bartlett writes in an article today: ..."If Democrats are going to accept Republican premises, they shouldn't be surprised if a majority of people eventually conclude that Republicans ought to be in charge of government policy."

    Who can disagree with that?

  • Live Free or Die on September 06, 2011 8:32 AM:

    I know I should be the last person to be saying things after the way I have been raking Obama over the coals, but lets wait for the speech and plan. I heard that he said the word Republican at the labor speech.. So this is a good start. I can understand why you guys think Obama will cave, but we will see after he makes his speech. At the very least he should not apologize for the Hoffa comments. They should just shrug their shoulders.

  • Josef K on September 06, 2011 8:47 AM:

    if Thursday’s speech sounds anything like Monday’s speech

    That's a big "if". But I echo Live Free or Die's comment: let's wait until we hear what he proposes on Thursday before breaking out the torches and pitchforks.

    I'm skeptical there'll be anything in there that'll help in the near term, but maybe it'll nudge the national dialogue in a more positive direction.

    This might be superfluous anyway; the way the Eurozone is reportedly coming apart, it might bring American finance down before next year's election, and gods alone know what that'll lead to.

  • AndrewBW on September 06, 2011 8:47 AM:

    I don't expect a lot out of the Thursday speech. It's to a joint session of Congress and it's going to get a lot of attention, so I really doubt that the president will go in with both barrels blazing. I think he'll try and sound reasonable and rational, and present a plan that at least he believes can be credibly described as bipartisan. Personally, that's not what I want to see, but given the venue and timing I don't expect more.

    What really matters is what he does afterwards. If he sticks to his guns and really takes the fight to the GOP I think he has a chance to win back many of those voters who are unhappy with the direction he's been heading. If he rolls over for the GOP again, that'll be the end of it. What's the point of having a fake Republican in office when you can have a real one?

  • berttheclock on September 06, 2011 9:11 AM:

    As for the Hoffa remark, Poor Poor Mourning Joe and Still in the Closet Heilman were ever so upset that equal time was not taken by the White House to denounce VP Biden for calling RepuG obstructionists terrorists.

  • Kathryn on September 06, 2011 9:11 AM:

    Agree with most of AndrewBW, he's not going to attack Republicans in a speech in Congress but will say plenty that makes them sit on their hands. However, I'll take a so-called fake Republican (which Obama is not, in my opinion) over a real one any day. If some yahoo yells out while he's speaking I hope the sergeant-in-arms, if one exists, removes him/her from the the room, enough with the disrespect.

  • Zorro on September 06, 2011 9:30 AM:

    We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party.

    Is there even a shadow of doubt that the answer to this question is "no, they won't?" After all, Sen, McConnell did say, quite explicitly, that their #1 priority was to make President Obama a one term President.

    -Z

  • Eric on September 06, 2011 9:39 AM:

    The prospect of payroll tax cuts, more trade deals (that facilitate offshore movement of jobs), and an infrastructure bank leaves me cold. Obama's policies have failed because he has chosen to continue neo-liberal economic policies. Nothing in this Labor Day oration gives rise to hope that he will start to advocate for a government that might actually give our middle class a chance.

  • tim on September 06, 2011 9:44 AM:

    I was at the speech yesterday. When he said, "I'm going to propose ways to put America back to work that both parties can agree to, because I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems..." the crowd was muttering that the Repubs won't agree to anything. Don't be so naive. Then when he targeted Republicans, the crowd cheered.

    By the way, the speech was not at a GM plant. It was on the Detroit riverfront side of the GM headquarters.

  • samsa on September 06, 2011 10:24 AM:

    That has always been the case: he gives good speeches when cornered.

    Sadly nothing comes of them.

    No hope for change.

  • bdop4 on September 06, 2011 10:30 AM:

    Alli,

    Steve quotes Krugman because he knows how to fix the economy. Once again, "it's the economy, stupid," and all the 11th dimensional political strategizing in the world isn't going to achieve anything if the policies don't actually produce results. Dems need to propose real solutions and fight for them. What I've heard so far is akin to pissing on a forest fire.

    Republicans are not going to agree to anything that benefits the public. It's time to put down the carrot and start beating them with the stick. HARD.

  • Texas Aggie on September 06, 2011 10:36 AM:

    "... because I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems."

    Either he's saying something nice because his mother raised him that way, or else he is hopelessly naive. I can't say which.

    As for whether he really plans to go through with creating jobs, you saw how much he was dedicated to creating green jobs associated with retrofitting smokestacks that spew ozone producing chemicals. I strongly doubt that he is going to propose anything that may cost the moneybags a nickel or inconvenience them in any way. But I'll wait and see.

  • Texas Aggie on September 06, 2011 10:45 AM:

    He can organize a national Prayer Day, beseeching God for an improved economy and jobs for everyone. After all, it worked so well for the Texas drought. - Steve Duncan

    Well, actually it did, but God kind of missed with his hurricane and hit the northeast instead. Irene was actually supposed to come to land between Corpus Christi and Houston, but, you know. Sometimes things don't go the way they're supposed to.

    God also seems to have similar problems correcting TX's economy as well. Despite Goodhair, a bunch of new apostles, and 30,000 people praying for God to take care of them, the economy here is still in the pits and getting pittier all the time. Maybe God is trying to say something like "You broke it. You own it."

  • yellowdog on September 06, 2011 11:30 AM:

    Obama has to propose some things that the GOP can conceivably support, so when the GOP dismisses his plans out of hand, as expected, people are led to wonder why. He needs people to ask, over and over again, "Why is the GOP sitting on its hands? Don't they want to help the economy? What have -they- done about jobs?" Free trade is one of those things. The GOP was for it, until it had Obama's name on it.

    He is also apparently going to press things the GOP really won't like but that are broadly popular with the public - like infrastructure spending and the payroll tax cut. He pretty much dared Congress to put its money where its mouth is by passing a payroll tax cut. Another good thing - He put down a marker here protecting collective bargaining rights--and even called Truman's name in noting the anti-labor efforts of an earlier generation.

    All of these things are quite popular and pro-middle-class and easy to understand. No reason a reasonable Congress in tune with the crisis cannot pass these. But that's his point--We don't have a reasonable Congress. There's some good stuff here. Didn't hear a lot about housing, which is troubling. Scale matters, too. We'll see if he scales up to a strong level.

    All of these popular, potentially effective initiatives will be a pretty big stick to beat the GOP over the head with in coming months. There's nothing here that an ordinary person could really have a problem with and get behind.

  • Dennis on September 06, 2011 12:00 PM:

    POTUS shows some fight?

    What's up with all the violent rhetoric all of a sudden?

    Of course he's going to show some fight, he's just been told the crowd was his army, and they were ready to march, and they were going to take out the tea party sonsabitches.

    Would anyone not expect him to show some fight after that speech?

  • Jimo on September 06, 2011 1:48 PM:

    I don't see anything about incentivizing (bribing) employers to hire long-term employed.

    Which is cheaper: paying out $25k to an employer who hires and keeps employed for 2 yrs. someone out of work more than 6 mo., or continuing with unemployment extensions and the loss of production that person represents?

    Seems to me the choice is on the kindergarten level of difficulty (not unlike the question of the government borrowing at negative real interest rates).

    Such direct action to lower unemployment lessens economic anxiety across the board, stops paying people to produce nothing and pay them to produce something (even if not immediately in demand), spreads the cost of limited demand more equitably rather than just on a few unlikely people, and boosts tax receipts at every level.

    Can you imagine the increased optimism as people begin to see job listings with verbiage like: "Bonus certificate applicants encouraged to apply."

  • Mark Crawford on September 06, 2011 3:50 PM:

    What I heard was a very politicized, un-Presidential speach. I am so disappointed in this man. I voted for him even though I don't support his policies because I believed that he would change the rhetoric and foster honest discussions on the issues. Instead he has been running for re-election since 21 January 2009. Such a missed opportunity for the left, right, and the whole country.

  • Generally Eclectic on September 06, 2011 4:05 PM:

    Too little, too late...

  • Steve on September 06, 2011 4:07 PM:

    "Is there even a shadow of doubt that the answer to this question is "no, they won't?" After all, Sen, McConnell did say, quite explicitly, that their #1 priority was to make President Obama a one term President.

    -Z"

    Zorro, making Obama a 1-term President IS putting country first.

  • robmac on September 06, 2011 4:27 PM:

    Instead of "putting up a fight" how about putting up a plan, with some new ideas? Krugman tells the Pres to change the conversation to jobs - how about doing that 3 years ago? And how about leading instead of calling names and whining about Bush?
    Obama, Hoffa, and the Dems don't need to get tough; they need to grow up.

  • Vince on September 06, 2011 4:37 PM:

    Blah, Blah, Blah! Evertime his poll numbers go down, he give a speech. The media then says "hes fighting again".
    Same old story. He will give a speech, but leave the specifics up to congress. Fortunately, Americans are finally noticing what many have known. He has no idea what hes doing. Hes flailing. He NOW "focusing like a laser beam" on jobs. One would think Steve Benen would already notice this.

  • notnow on September 06, 2011 5:02 PM:

    The only ones wanting 'fight' out of the President are the leftwing idealogues whose divisive agenda lead POTUS into his current mess anyway. What we need from the President is what most Americans voting for him hoped and expected-someone who can unite and lead. Mr. Obama and the Left created the Tea Party. Now, they have to deal with it. Unite, not challenge.

  • Tom on September 06, 2011 5:06 PM:

    He got elected by blaming the administration while leaving the Congress (which he was part of) essentially blameless. Now he thinks that he can get reelected by blaming the Congress and leaving the administration essentially blameless? Good luck with that strategy!

  • Clawhammer Jake on September 06, 2011 5:18 PM:

    What difference does it make what President Obama says?

    He turns his back on Democrats who might actually support him, and tries to govern with Republicans who scorn him.

    The results are he looks weak to Democrats and dumb to Republicans. The result is he lacks the strength to act.

  • sinz54 on September 06, 2011 5:41 PM:

    Benen's column is the latest in the series of futile columns--by multiple Obama apologists--which I call "Obama Finds His Voice." Named after E. Dionne, who has written a half dozen of those himself during the Obama term.

    1. Obama gives a speech with his usual soaring rhetoric.

    2. His liberal supporters write excitedly, "Obama Finds His Voice" and "Obama Returns To His Liberal Roots."

    3. Liberals wait for Obama to take charge and push Congress in a liberal direction. Wait and wait and wait.

    4. Word leaks out that Obama is "open to compromise."

    5. Word leaks out that Obama is proposing concessions.

    6. Word leaks out that Obama has proposed more concessions.

    7. Obama announces a deal with his political opponents in which they get 80% of what they want and he gets 20% of what he wants.

    8. Disappointed Obama supporters go back to step 1 and repeat. Over and over.

  • StanleyBing on September 06, 2011 7:21 PM:

    I'm really enjoying reading the "progressives" who were all about "civility" (when they could use it as a political weapon) dismissing Hoffa's comments. Just more proof that they stand for nothing.

    Just like they really didn't care about an ever-expanding presidency, about Gitmo, about multiple wars, about the Patriot Act or any of the rest of the laundry list of "crimes against humanity" they were screaming about just 3 years ago.

  • Picolopete on September 06, 2011 8:18 PM:

    I totally agree with "StanleyBing." The Democrats yesterday from Joe Biden to Mr. Hoffa called Republicans "Barbarians" and "SOBs." Also, Maxine Waters stated that the "Tea Party can go straight to hell." Back in January, after the shooting in Arizona, President Obama asked the country to dial back the rhetoric. But the name calling is continuing because Democrats want to deflect the attention from a faltering economy, high unemployment, high gas prices, a downgraded credit rating, and a mounting debt. The Democrats do not have the facts on their side so they resort to temper tantrums and the spewing of venomous language.

  • sapient on September 06, 2011 8:23 PM:

    The Koch brothers' paid blog spammers are out in force. Obama must be doing something very, very well!

  • SNAKESRULE on September 06, 2011 8:38 PM:

    "@ Day:
    "You forgot to mention the sudden shortage of fainting couches and smelling salts in Tea Party districts, due to Mr Hoffa calling them "sons of bitches". . .

    Fuck the media. How about that for being uncivilized? After the media stood mute when Obama was being called a Kenyan socialist Muslim who was not born here. After Death Panels, this is what they fainting over? Obama should ignore the media, unless he wants to be a one term president. Obama actually used the word Republican instead of Congress or Washington. More of this Obama, please."

    Agreed, fuck the media, additionally, fuck this fat piece of shit union thug along with parasitical leftists. Game on. Destiny awaits.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on September 06, 2011 9:00 PM:

    OK.

  • Doug on September 06, 2011 9:59 PM:

    Well, well, well. Faux "progressive" trolls? What next, fake real trolls? What gave them away? The usual mass arrival, "various" posters employing the same talking points and the, usual, complete lack of anything factual to back up their claims.

    yellowdog @ 11:30 AM has it right. It's NOT 11-dimensional chess, it's plain old-fashioned politics; perhaps better known in its form of the "poison-pill" amendment. Add an amendment you know your opponents cannot, and will not, vote for to a piece of legislation they HAVE to support or have their "no" vote used as a bludgeon against them in the next election.
    It's been refined, of course. Everything the President will most likely propose will be something Republicans have heartiy supported BEFORE Mr. Obama became President. Everything the President will most likely propose will be something that will help, or not hurt, the economy. WHY won't the Republicans support it?
    Republican/Teabaggers win elections when the voters AREN'T thinking, just reacting. Once voters start thinking about what's happening in DC, the Republican/Teabaggers don't stand a chance. All the "remedies" offered by Republican/Teabaggers; gutting regulations, maintaining Bush's tax cuts for the rich, privatizing SS and Medicare, which they say are absolutely necessary for our economic recovery, WEREN'T necesary for our economic recoveries in the 1980s and 1990s. I really don't think Republican/Teabaggers want to risk voters asking themselves: "Why now?"
    Not everyone watches Fox, you know...

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