Obama facing party doubts

Posted: June 15, 2012

WASHINGTON - President Obama will travel to Cleveland on Thursday to deliver what aides describe as a speech that will sharply cast November's election as a choice between his economic stewardship and an alternative that he says would return the country to the policies that caused the downturn.

The address comes at a moment when some Democrats are calling for a change of course in the president's message, which they say is too backward-looking and does not explain how he would continue to try to boost the economy. Advisers have dismissed such concerns. But they are billing the event as a major framing speech that will be followed by a string of his surrogates visiting key states.

The speech, advisers said, will contrast Obama's efforts to strengthen the middle class - through such initiatives as education programs, the bailout of the auto industry, and investment in infrastructure - with what Republican Mitt Romney says he would do as president. Obama is expected to argue that Romney's proposals to extend and expand tax cuts for the wealthiest, and to slice deeply into government spending without committing to new revenue, reflect the policies of George W. Bush's presidency.

"The president believes that this election is a fundamental choice between two very different visions for how we grow the economy, create middle-class jobs, and pay down our debt," White House press secretary Jay Carney said at his briefing Wednesday.

What's unclear is whether Obama's Democratic critics will view the speech as more of the same. These critics think the president has spent too much time blaming Bush for the state of the economy and criticizing Romney. They acknowledge the difficulty of explaining a complicated moment - and combating a message from the other side that effectively says the economic woes are "all Obama's fault." Yet they say the president is not making the case well enough for what he has done and what he would do going forward.

Republicans are making a similar pitch. In a conference call with reporters previewing Obama's speech, Russell Schriefer, a Romney senior strategist, said the president will offer "more of the same - no new ideas about how to get the economy going."

Obama is not backing away from blaming the ailing economy on Bush. If anything, he is amplifying that message. At a fund-raiser in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Obama pointed to "these folks [who] suddenly get religion and say, 'Man, deficits and government spending' - when they ran up the tab and are trying to pass off the bill to me."

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