Although President Obama urged the assembled members of Congress to “stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy,” there were plenty of times during tonight’s speech that the President sounded like he was campaigning.
In an attempt to try and stay above the partisan fray and appeal to independent swing voters the President started his address tonight by focusing on what the two parties shared in common. “There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation,” he said. “Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans – including many who sit here tonight.” He went on to highlight the fact that “Fifty House Republicans have proposed the same payroll tax cut that’s in this plan” and that the idea for an infrastructure fund “came from a bill written by a Texas Republican and a Massachusetts Democrat.”
Yet, his calls for action on his proposal – sixteen times tonight he called on Congress to “pass this bill” – also sounded a lot like something you’d hear at a campaign rally.
As one Democratic strategist told me, this was “urgent” Obama not “explainer” Obama. “Urgent” Obama was the candidate who was able to fire up crowds and connect with average voters. “Explainer” Obama was the one who often seemed aloof and lecture-ey.
While he didn’t advocate for the kind of big stimulus spending that many liberals would have liked to see, he did make an impassioned defense of government. “[T]his larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everyone’s money, let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own – that’s not who we are,” said Obama. “That’s not the story of America.”
The President has also showed no sign of backing down on his commitment to close tax breaks for corporations and wealthy Americans, despite the fact that he lost this battle at the end of 2010 and during the debt ceiling debate.
“Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can’t afford to do both,” he said. ”Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? Right now, we can’t afford to do both.”
This battle over the proper role of government is one that defined the election of 2010 and will be central to the debate between President Obama and his GOP opponent in 2012. We’ve heard many of the lines Obama used tonight in previous speeches. There’s little doubt we’ll hear much of what was in this address on the campaign trail and in debates in 2012.
In fact, following the speech, Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent out a statement where he said “America needs jobs, smaller government, less spending and a president with the courage to offer more than yet another speech.”