The president has been using the refrain“Change is . . . ” to catalogue a list of actions — including rescuing the auto industry, enacting health-care reform and ending the war in Iraq — he hopes will increase his reelection chances.
“We’ve begun to see what change looks like,” Obama told hundreds of supporters in Chicago last week.
At the same time, he has rolled out a series of initiatives intended to emphasize his determination to fight on behalf of ordinary Americans as the administration struggles to restore public confidence in the economic recovery.
Over 11 days this month, Obama installed his choice to head a consumer financial watchdog agency despite Republican opposition; called for tax breaks for businesses that return jobs from overseas; and asked Congress to give him broad power to restructure government agencies.
On the surface, the initiatives appeared to have little in common, except that Obama tied them together as victories for the little guy — a family that nearly lost its home in the stock market crash, factory workers looking for jobs; small-business owners trying to break through the federal bureaucracy.
“The competition for new jobs, for businesses, for middle-class security — that’s a race I know we can win,” Obama said. “But America is not going to win if we give in to those who think that we can only respond to our challenges with the same tired, old tune — just hand out more tax cuts to folks who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them, let companies do whatever they want, hope that prosperity somehow trickles down on everybody else’s head. It doesn’t work.”
White House aides said the president’s national address before Congress next Tuesday will draw heavily on the themes he laid out last month in Osawatomie, Kan., where he tried to channel Theodore Roosevelt’s urgent middle-class populism of a century ago and warned of a growing income inequality gap.
Gone is Obama’s lofty 2011 State of the Union call to “win the future” through long-term infrastructure investments, replaced by the more tangible set of “we can’t wait” executive actions to jump-start the economy that he has taken without congressional approval.
The president’s two-tiered strategy — demonstrating progress while assuring audiences that there is much more to come — aims to neutralize his biggest vulnerabilities: the sluggish economy and stubbornly high unemployment rate of 8.5 percent.
Although there have been modest upticks in job creation in recent months, the White House has been cautious about appearing too upbeat, mindful of Republican critics that link the economic recovery to what they call Obama’s failed policies.