Obama offered the most vigorous defense of his presidency to date, one that included a litany of the actions — including investment in schools, energy and infrastructure — that he said have strengthened the middle class and fostered economic growth. After what his aides billed as a major address, the Obama campaign flooded supporters with statements from about two dozen surrogates hailing the speech for its insights, part of an effort to curb Democratic dissent and help the president set the agenda for the coming days.
But Romney did not cede the stage in this bellwether state that both campaigns consider crucial.
The presumed Republican nominee scheduled his remarks at a Cincinnati factory so that they would come shortly before Obama’s, to serve as a prebuttal. And at the site of the president’s speech at Cuyahoga Community College, a Romney campaign bus circled the event, honking its horn, while a few dozen protesters milled on street corners nearby.
Obama’s speech underscored how much circumstances have changed for him since he won the presidency in 2008 on a promise of hope and change. The national mood this time is one of disillusionment, both with the slow pace of the economic recovery and with dysfunction in Washington.
“The only thing that can break that stalemate is you,” Obama told the nation. “What’s lacking is not the capacity to meet our challenges. What is lacking is our politics. And that’s something entirely within your power to solve.”
Where Obama ran four years ago as an inspirational figure who could rise above partisanship, his argument on Thursday suggested that there is no common ground between his approach to governing and Romney’s.
“This election presents a choice between two fundamentally different visions of how to create strong, sustained growth, how to pay down our long-term debt, and most of all how to generate good, middle-class jobs so people can have confidence that if they work hard, they can get ahead,” the president said.
“This isn’t some abstract debate,” he continued. “This is not another trivial Washington argument.”
As he has in the past, Obama blamed the policies of George W. Bush, his predecessor, for digging and deepening the hole in which the economy remains, and Republican obstructionism for the lack of progress in digging out of it.
Romney, he said, would take the country back to Bush’s approach, by cutting taxes for the wealthy, strangling investment in the future and lifting regulations. The result, he said, would be cuts in popular programs, such as college loans, medical research and early childhood education; a repeal of the new health-care law; and the transformation of Medicare into a voucher program.