The other day, Obama threw the charge of “class warfare” back in the GOP’s face, arguing that Republicans were the ones waging class warfare on behalf of the wealthy — the latest in his sharp populist turn as he seeks to frame the contrast between the parties heading into the elections. Liberals saw it as a clear victory for the “professional left,” which has been arguing that the best way to win back disaffected Dems — and to win back independents — is to show fight on jobs and to draw as sharp a contrast as possible with Republicans.
Today, in a surprisingly aggressive appearance at a bridge in John Boehner’s district, Obama took this a step further still, explicitly claiming the role of “warrior” on behalf of the middle class. What’s more — in another move that could have been scripted by the professional left — Obama repeatedly called out John Boehner and Mitch McConnell by name as he demanded action on jobs.
It’s worth quoting at length (this is a rough transcript):
The bridge behind us happens to connect the state that is home to the Speaker of the House, with the home state of the Republican leader in the Senate... Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, those are the two most powerful Republicans in government. They can either kill this jobs bill, or they can help pass this jobs bill...
There is no reason for Republicans in Congress to stand in the way of more construction projects. There is no reason to stand in the way of more jobs. Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge. Help us rebuild America. Help us put construction workers back to work. Pass this bill!
Now, some folks in Congress have said, `Well, we don’t like how it’s paid for.’ It’s paid for as part of my the larger plan to pay down the debt. That plan makes additional cuts in spending. We already cut a trillion dollars in spending. This makes an additional hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts in spending. But it also asks the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations to pay their fair share in taxes...
There’s a lot of people saying, “this is class warfare.” Well, if saying that billionaires should pay the same share in taxes as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare, then you know what? I’m a warrior for the middle class. I will fight for the middle class.... But the only class warfare I’ve seen is the battle against the middle class.
For any of you card carrying members of the professional left who had hoped to see Obama barnstorm the country and call out Republicans by name, well, you’ve now seen just that. As for the question of whether we’re going to see more of it, by all indications this is a fight that Obama intends to continue indefinitely. We are now seeing the professional left’s preferred script being put to the test.
Many pundits and commentators have taken a skeptical view of Obama’s new strategy, claiming it’s about nothing more than pleasing the base and insisting that it risks alienating independents and moderates. You already know my views on that question. But I wanted to point you to a very smart point about this from Michael Cohen, who argues that the virtually unprecedented GOP intransigence on taxes in recent months has weakened the typical GOP narrative about tax and spend liberals while strengthening the Dem case that they are only trying to raise taxes on those who can afford it:
Republicans have fundamentally weakened the power of their tax narrative by adopting such an extreme position on taxes. As I wrote over the summer, it’s not some form of political hyperbole to accuse Republicans of keeping tax rates low to be their number one priority — it’s a fact. If you look back at the debt limit debate the one issue on which Republicans absolutely refused to bend was tax cuts – even if it meant sending the country into default. Of course, it wasn’t even a 1-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes that they rejected. By some accounts, more than 80 percent of the cuts would have come in spending and the rest in revenue increases. Yet, that was still unacceptable to Republicans.
As a result it has become much easier for the White House and Democrats to portray Republicans as handmaidens of the plutocratic class; because it actually happens to be true! Democrats now have a handy response to charges that they want to increase taxes on everyone — they only want to raise them on the rich. And while they’ve used such defenses in the past because of the GOP stubbornness on the issue today — and because of the sense that the deficit is a serious national crisis — the Democratic counter-argument resonates far more deeply than it has before.
Every indication is that this is how Obama’s advisers also read the current landscape. So I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect lots more like this.
UPDATE: I got the transcript slightly wrong; the current version above is correct. And here’s the video: