On paper, President Obama’s speech to the United Auto Workers this morning isn’t any different than the speech he gave in Osawatomie, Kansas at the beginning of the year, or the one he gave announcing the American Jobs Act last fall. Boiled down, each is a populist call to reject tax cuts for the wealthy, and push for greater fairness and mobility in the economy. Where today’s speech stands apart is in the actual presentation; this stands as one of the most aggressive speeches Obama has delivered, with a barrage of attacks on the Republican Party and its presidential candidates.
The president ripped into Mitt Romney’s position on the automobile bailout calling him out for his opposition—“Some even said we should 'let Detroit go bankrupt.'”—and then ridiculing him for his refusal to accept its success. He inveighed against the GOP’s hostility to labor unions, calling it “a load of you-know-what,” and used the auto-bailouts as a departure point for his larger argument: that this is an election of fundamental differences, where Republicans place a greater value on the wants and interests of the wealthiest Americans, and Democrats want to want to preserve and expand opportunity for as many people as possible:
You want to talk about values? Hard work—that’s a value. Looking out for one another—that’s a value. The idea that we’re all in it together—that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper—that is a value. […]
We will not settle for a country where a few people do really well, and everyone else struggles to get by. We’re fighting for an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules. We will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony profits. We’re fighting for an economy that’s built to last—one built on things like education, energy, manufacturing things the rest of the world wants to buy, and restoring the values that made this country great: Hard work. Fair play. The opportunity to make it if you try. And the responsibility to reach back and help someone else make it, too.
The Republican Party’s argument for in this election—regardless of who wins the nomination—is simple: we have to shrink government to save the economy. And to illustrate the case, they’ll present health care reform, the stimulus, and the bailouts as “big government” policies that harmed the economy, and kept it from recovery.
This speech sums up President Obama’s response; government is one of the ways in which we provide opportunity for anyone who wants it, and Republicans want to eliminate that, for the sake of giving more and greater advantages to the wealthy and privileged.
The Republican presidential candidates should take note. So far, they’ve been in a bubble of constant conservative affirmation. But in a few short months, one of them will enter the general election, and will have to face off against an aggressive and confident incumbent.