Obama rails against Wall Street during campaign stops

By Julianna Goldman and Nicholas Johnston
(c) 2010 Bloomberg News
Tuesday, October 12, 2010; 9:57 AM

Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama is returning to the rhetorical roots of Democratic politics in the final weeks of this election: setting up a battle of the classes.

Presenting Democrats as the party that will fight for the "middle class," and Republicans as the party that will look out for "millionaires and billionaires," Obama in campaign speeches and at fundraisers has sought to make his point using a populist lexicon that aligns Republicans with big businesses as the forces behind the worst recession since the Great Depression.

His cast of villains makes repeated appearances, including in Obama's remarks at an Oct. 10 rally in Philadelphia: "special interests," "Wall Street banks," "corporations," the "oil industry," the "insurance industry" and "credit-card companies." Specific corporations aren't spared, as when the president said the Republican governing agenda was "written by a former lobbyist for AIG and Exxon Mobil."

"If the other side wins, they'll try their hardest to give rein back to the insurance companies and the credit-card companies and the Wall Street banks that we're finally holding accountable," Obama told a crowd of supporters in Philadelphia.

With the nation's unemployment rate equaling or exceeding 9.5 percent for 14 consecutive months and forecasts saying it will remain at that rate through the middle of next year, Obama is trying to redirect voter anger and anxiety away from his policies to mitigate likely Democratic losses in the Nov. 2 election.

While the White House has drawn fire from prominent corporate leaders for being anti-business, most voters don't share those concerns. A Bloomberg National Poll conducted Oct. 7-10 found that more than half of likely voters believe Obama has struck the right balance or is too pro-business. Only 36 percent of voters consider the president anti-business.

"This is clearly designed to sort of draw out the bad guy in this election," said Evan Tracey, president of Kantar Media's CMAG in Arlington, Virginia, which tracks political ads.

"There is certainly a lot of anger at corporate America because of bailouts, because of the Wall Street collapse," Tracey said. "So what they're looking for is really a target of opportunity."

Kevin Madden, who worked for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the 2008 election, called Obama's rhetoric "class warfare of the worst kind" that risks undermining the type of presidential campaign he ran.

"Voters who gravitated to Obama as someone who held the promise of being unconventional now see him as a typical politician, wallowing in the status quo," Madden said.

Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and onetime political adviser to former President Bill Clinton, said it is Republicans in this election who are pitting economic classes against each other with proposals that favor creating private investment accounts for Social Security and giving tax breaks to corporations moving jobs overseas.

"That sure sounds like class warfare to me, class warfare being waged by Republicans against the middle class," he said. "Bully for President Obama for calling them on it."

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