Last night, closing his assertive speech on the American Jobs Act, President Obama made a promise. “This plan is the right thing to do right now, and you should pass it,” he said to the joint session of Congress, “And I intend to take that message to every corner of this country.”
This morning, Obama made his first stop in front of a crowd of cheering college students at the University of Richmind in Richmond, Virginia, the state’s capital. There, in a brief address, he said his $447 billion jobs plan aims to reduce unemployment and jump-start the economy through payroll tax cuts, infrastructure spending, and renewed unemployment benefits. In addition, Obama pledged to introduce a plan for long-term deficit reduction as a companion piece to the AJA. He didn’t offer specifics – outside of the usual references to wasteful spending and entitlement “adjustments” – but he did attempt to make a case for deficit reduction, albeit without the passion of last night’s address. “We spent a whole summer fussing over the deficit, and it is legitimate to get a government living within its means, like a family does,” Obama explained to polite applause.
The household metaphor is sure to be annoying to liberals who know that governments aren't like families in a number of ways, but it was a minor portion of his pitch. By far, Obama spent the most time pressing for higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans: “We have to make real choices about the kind of country we want to be. We can’t afford for folks who are the most fortunate to do the least, and put the largest burden on folks who are struggling the most.”
The White House denied a political component to this speech, but it’s obvious from the venue that this was a consideration; given the importance of both young people and Virginia to Obama’s re-election efforts, the University of Richmond isn’t a bad place to hold a speech.
What’s more, Richmond is located in the heart of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district, and Obama’s final, barnstorming refrain reads as a direct challenge to Cantor and his right-wing allies. “If you want teachers in the classroom, pass this bill! If you want veterans to have their fair share of what they’ve worked to build, pass this bill!”, the president practically yelled over cheers from the crowd. “Prove that you will fight as hard for tax cuts for middle-class and working people as you do for oil companies and rich people!”
Of course, Republican lawmakers aren’t obligated to do anything, and rhetorical pressure from the president – no matter how forceful – isn’t likely to change their behavior. But as Jonathan Bernstein pointed out in reference to yesterday’s speech, consistent presidential pressure will focus attention and energy among administration officials and friendly lawmakers, a crucial step as Democrats attempt to “pass the bill.”
Even if Obama fails to move public opinion with these speeches – which is likely – they nonetheless work to define the stakes for Democrats as they enter the 2012 election season: Re-elect President Obama, and there’s a chance for economic growth. Otherwise, kiss the recovery goodbye.