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 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 campaign message, which they say is too backward-looking and does not explain how Obama would continue to try to boost the anemic economy. Obama advisers have dismissed such concerns. But they are nonetheless billing the event as a major framing speech that the president worked on extensively and that will be followed by a blitz of surrogate appearances in key battleground 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 Americans, and to slice deeply into government spending without committing to new revenue, reflect the policies of George W. Bush’s presidency, which ended with huge deficits and a recession.
“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. “The other side’s plan is a $5 trillion tax cut that explodes the deficit while gutting the investments we need to grow.”
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 — and too little time offering a bigger vision. They acknowledge the difficulty of explaining a complicated moment — and combating a simplistic 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 — and where he’s trying to take the country.
“When the president talks about it, he wants to say and often does say, ‘America’s back,’ ” said Robert Borosage, a co-director of the liberal group Campaign for America’s Future. “But that doesn’t match what people are feeling. You need to send a message that ‘We saved you from free fall, and now I’m fighting every day to get the jobs we need, and these guys are standing in the way.’ The more you want to make it into a merit badge, the more you make it sound like you do not know where people are.”
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, no real new proposals, just more spending, more taxes, more regulation.”