Obama’s Labor Day speech to a union crowd in Milwaukee yesterday hopefully is just a down payment on some tough campaigning the President will have to do, if he is to mitigate the damage the sluggish economy is going to do to the Democratic Party this fall.
He said he is going to do make these kind of speeches “across the country between now and November,” and let’s hope he’s true to that word, even if he should have started this kind of thing months ago.
The speech focused on the middle class, which is appropriate for an audience full of union members, since it was unionism that played a large role in assembling a once-thriving middle class in America, even if an ungrateful—an increasingly poorer—American workforce is buying into the anti-union propaganda funded by business interests, disseminated with the help of their political affiliate, the Republican Party.
Since I find that reading a speech leaves a different impression than hearing it, here are some excerpts from Obama’s remarks yesterday:
I believe this with every fiber of my being: America cannot have a strong, growing economy without a strong, growing middle class, and the chance for everybody, no matter how humble their beginnings, to join that middle class, a middle class built on the idea that if you work hard, if you live up to your responsibilities, then you can get ahead; that you can enjoy some basic guarantees in life. A good job that pays a good wage. Health care that will be there when you get sick. A secure retirement even if you’re not rich. An education that will give your children a better life than we had. These are simple ideas. These are American ideas. These are union ideas. That’s what we’re fighting for…
Now, anybody who thinks that we can move this economy forward with just a few folks at the top doing well, hoping that it’s going to trickle down to working people who are running faster and faster just to keep up, you’ll never see it. If that’s what you’re waiting for, you should stop waiting, because it’s never happened in our history. That’s not how America was built. It wasn’t built with a bunch of folks at the top doing well and everybody else scrambling. We didn’t become the most prosperous country in the world just by rewarding greed and recklessness. We didn’t come this far by letting the special interests run wild. We didn’t do it just by gambling and chasing paper profits on Wall Street. We built this country by making things, by producing goods we could sell. We did it with sweat and effort and innovation. We did it on the assembly line and at the construction site…
We did it by investing in the people who built this country from the ground up –- the workers, middle-class families, small business owners. We out-worked folks and we out-educated folks and we out-competed everybody else. That’s how we built America.
The President then turned to his administration’s accomplishments, an attempt at “building our economy on a new foundation so that our middle class doesn’t just survive this crisis“:
I want it to thrive. I want it to be stronger than it was before.
And over the last two years, that’s meant taking on some powerful interests — some powerful interests who had been dominating the agenda in Washington for a very long time.
And they’re not always happy with me. They talk about me like a dog. That’s not in my prepared remarks, it’s just — but it’s true.
Not only do they talk about him like a dog, but often like he’s an uppity negro who wants to destroy white culture, but that’s for another day.
The President ran through some of the things the administration has done: financial reform, health insurance reform; eliminating the subsidies that went to banks for student loans; tax cuts to 95% of working Americans, tax cuts to small business owners, tax cuts to clean energy companies, and tax cuts to companies that create jobs in America, rather than export them abroad; “sound and long-overdue” investments in national infrastructure, including the electric grid and broadband Internet.
He then announced his newest initiative:
…today, I am announcing a new plan for rebuilding and modernizing America’s roads and rails and runways for the long term. (Applause.) I want America to have the best infrastructure in the world. We used to have the best infrastructure in the world. We can have it again. We are going to make it happen. This is a plan that will be fully paid for and will not add to the deficit over time – we’re going to work with Congress to see to that. It sets up an Infrastructure Bank to leverage federal dollars and focus on the smartest investments.
It will continue our strategy to build a national high-speed rail network that reduces congestion, travel times, and harmful emissions. It will cut waste and bureaucracy by consolidating and collapsing more than 100 different, often duplicative programs. And it will change the way Washington spends your tax dollars; reforming the haphazard and patchwork way we fund and maintain our infrastructure to focus less on wasteful earmarks and outdated formulas, and more on competition and innovation that gives us the best bang for the buck.
Now, all of that sounds good, but Obama recognized political reality and hammered Republicans:
…But there are some folks in Washington who see things differently. You know what I’m talking about.When it comes to just about everything we’ve done to strengthen our middle class, to rebuild our economy, almost every Republican in Congress says no. Even on things we usually agree on, they say no. If I said the sky was blue, they say no. If I said fish live in the sea, they’d say no.
They just think it’s better to score political points before an election than to solve problems. So they said no to help for small businesses, even when the small businesses said we desperately need this. This used to be their key constituency, they said. They said no. No to middle-class tax cuts. They say they’re for tax cuts; I say, okay, let’s give tax cuts to the middle class. No. No to clean energy jobs. No to making college more affordable. No to reforming Wall Street. They’re saying right now, no to cutting more taxes for small business owners and helping them get financing.
You know, I heard — somebody out here was yelling “Yes we can.” Remember that was our slogan? Their slogan is “No we can’t.” No, no, no, no.
I mean, I personally think “Yes we can” is more inspiring than “No we can’t.” To steal a line from our old friend Ted Kennedy: What is it about working men and women that they find so offensive?
And my favorite part of the speech, which Obama has delivered in various forms on other occasions:
Look, the bottom line is this: These guys, they just don’t want to give up on that economic philosophy that they have been peddling for most of the last decade. You know that philosophy — you cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires; you cut all the rules and regulations for special interests; and then you just cut working folks loose — you cut them loose to fend for themselves.
You remember they called it the ownership society, but what it really boiled down to was, if you couldn’t find a job, you couldn’t afford college, you were born poor, your insurance company dropped you even though your kid was sick, that you were on your own.
Well, you know what, that philosophy didn’t work out so well for middle-class families all across America. It didn’t work out so well for our country. All it did was rack up record deficits and result in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. I mean, think about it, we have tried what they’re peddling. We did it for 10 years. We ended up with the worst economy since the 1930s and record deficits to boot. It’s not like we haven’t tried what they’re trying to sell us.
Now, I’m bringing this up not because I’m trying to re-litigate the past; I’m bringing it up because I don’t want to re-live the past.
It’d be one thing, Milwaukee, if Republicans in Washington had some new ideas, if they had said, you know what, we really screwed up, and we’ve learned from our mistakes; we’re going to do things differently this time. That’s not what they’re doing.
When the leader of their campaign committee was asked on national television what Republicans would do if they took over Congress, you know what he said? He said, we’ll do exactly the same thing we did the last time. That’s what he said. It’s on tape.
So basically, here’s what this election comes down to. They’re betting that between now and November, you’re going to come down with amnesia. They figure you’re going to forget what their agenda did to this country. They think you’ll just believe that they’ve changed.
These are the folks whose policies helped devastate our middle class. They drove our economy into a ditch. And we got in there and put on our boots and we pushed and we shoved. And we were sweating and these guys were standing, watching us and sipping on a Slurpee. And they were pointing at us saying, how come you’re not pushing harder, how come you’re not pushing faster?
And then when we finally got the car up — and it’s got a few dings and a few dents, it’s got some mud on it, we’re going to have to do some work on it — they point to everybody and say, look what these guys did to your car. After we got it out of the ditch! And then they got the nerve to ask for the keys back! I don’t want to give them the keys back. They don’t know how to drive.