If instant reactions are any indication, Obama’s speech helped reassure some in the Democratic family that he is one of them and that he will fight for the values they hold most dear. Daniel Mintz, the campaign director of MoveOn.org, an organization often at odds with the president, issued a statement of praise.
“For months, hundreds of thousands of members of the American Dream Movement have been urging Washington to focus on creating jobs and making our tax system work for all Americans, not just the super rich,” Mintz said. “Today, we’re glad to see this message reach the White House.”
This was a speech guaranteed to draw criticism from Republicans, and it came quickly. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) offered this: “Veto threats, a massive tax hike, phantom savings and punting on entitlement reform is not a recipe for economic or job growth — or even meaningful deficit reduction. The good news is that the Joint Committee is taking this issue far more seriously than the White House.”
It may be a measure of the president’s weakness that he has backed off significantly on changes in entitlements. He excluded Social Security from any changes in his new proposal, with administration officials arguing that it should be dealt with separately and apart from the current round of deficit-reduction talks.
More significant was his backing down on Medicare. During the negotiations with Boehner and Republicans, Obama was willing to agree to a rise in the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. There was no mention of that Monday. Instead he returned to the kind of tough language he used in the spring when he took on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget and in particular Ryan’s proposed changes to Medicare.
Obama’s speech was obviously anything but a blueprint designed to produce bipartisan consensus. For now, those days are over. Instead, the president has decided he must win the battle for public opinion in the debate between his vision and that of the Republicans if he hopes to win a second term in office.
He believes the American people are with him on the broad outlines and values he espoused Monday. The campaign that began on Sept. 8 in the House chamber continued Monday in the Rose Garden, with a weakened president fighting to win that battle.
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