By Anne E. Kornblut and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 9, 2010; 12:00 AM
CLEVELAND - President Obama and other leading Democrats lashed out at Republicans on Wednesday in a pair of tough-talking speeches intended to energize their party's base and frame the fall elections.
In a far-reaching economic address in Cleveland, Obama accused Republicans of distorting recent history by saying that Democrats are responsible for the nation's faltering employment rate and ballooning deficit. And he made clear that he opposes extending tax cuts for the wealthy that were enacted by President George W. Bush and are set to expire at the end of the year.
But Obama made his arguments about more than just economic policies, saying core American values - such as hard work and individual responsibility - are at stake in the November midterm elections.
"I had a single mom who put herself through school, and would wake before dawn to make sure I got a decent education. Michelle can still remember her father heading out to his job as a city worker long after multiple sclerosis had made it impossible for him to walk without crutches," Obama told the crowd of about 800 at Cuyahoga Community College.
"Yes, our families believed in the American values of self-reliance and individual responsibility, and they instilled those values in their children," he continued. "But they also believed in a country that rewards responsibility. A country that rewards hard work. A country built upon the promise of opportunity and upward mobility."
In Philadelphia, Democratic National Committee Chairman Timothy M. Kaine defended his party's record on the economy, health-care reform and financial regulation. He acknowledged that the political climate is treacherous for his party, but said that "tough is what Democrats do."
"We campaign tough, we win tough, we govern tough," he said.
"It's a party that's slowly but surely being taken over by wackos," he said. "They're nuts. They're flat-out crazy."
The speeches came as Democrats face dipping poll numbers when it comes to the economy. In a new Washington Post-ABC poll, 43 percent of voters said they prefer Republicans on financial issues, compared with 39 percent for Democrats, the first time the GOP has been ahead on the question since 2002.
The White House chose Cleveland for Obama's trip as a direct rebuttal to House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who in the same city two weeks earlier called on the president to fire his economic team.
Obama seemed to revel in criticizing Boehner's speech. "There were no new policies from Mr. Boehner. There were no new ideas. There was just the same philosophy we already tried during the decade that they were in power - the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place: cut more taxes for millionaires and cut more rules for corporations," he said.
Boehner, meanwhile, sought to take advantage of Obama's visit, announcing what he called a new "two-point plan" to freeze spending and continue the Bush tax cuts.
On the Bush-era cuts, Obama took the position his administration has sought for months to defend: Tax cuts for the middle class should be extended, but taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year should be able to be raised.
Obama also discussed his proposal for $180 billion in new business tax breaks and infrastructure spending to help the nation's economy. But rather than selling that plan to voters, he again used it to draw a contrast with Republicans.
For example, the president said he wants to make permanent an existing tax credit for research and development - a provision that helps keep jobs in the United States. He also wants to allow corporations to write off 100 percent of their investments in 2011. To cover the cost - about $130 billion over the next decade - Obama said he would close "billions of dollars in tax breaks that encourage companies to create jobs and profits in other countries."
Montgomery reported from Washington. Staff writer Philip Rucker in Philadelphia contributed to this report.