In the swirl of news coverage focused on the Republican presidential primaries in Michigan and Arizona today, it’s easy to miss the speech that President Obama delivered to a group of United Auto Workers in D.C. today.
But, it was a speech not to be missed — the closest thing we have seen to Obama running at full campaign speed we have seen yet in the 2012 race.
Here’s a sampling if you missed it:
This was Obama at his full-throated best — showing the fight that many Democrats have long, well, longed for. He even said as much: “I’ll promise you this: as long as you’ve got an ounce of fight left in you, I’ll have a ton of fight left in me”.
But it wasn’t just the tone that was worth remembering. It was the subject matter.
For Obama to win a second term, he has to make the case that he not only took on major challenges but also solved at least some of them. While the economy writ large has been improving of late, not even the rosiest Democratic analysts believe that things like the unemployment rate will drop precipitously between now and November.
Given that reality, Obama needs to find smaller success stories that allow him to effectively make a “promises made, promises kept” argument. The recovery of the auto industry is sure to be front and center in that argument from the Administration.
“If we had turned our backs on you; if America had thrown in the towel; GM and Chrysler wouldn’t exist today,” Obama said to huge cheers from the UAW crowd. “I placed my bet on American workers...three years later, the American auto industry is back.”
Promise made, promise kept.
But then Obama sought to broaden out the argument — making the case that what he did for the auto industry is what separates him from the men vying to be the Republican presidential nominee this fall.
Said Obama: “You want to talk about values? Hard work — that’s a value. Looking out for one another — that’s a value. The idea that we are all in it together — that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper — that is a value.”
The argument that Obama is making is that the actions he has taken over the first three years in office are far more consistent with what it means to be an American than anything that the Republican field is proposing. That he better understands the fabric that made America great than any of the Republicans he will face in the fall.
Of the GOP’s “you’re on your own philosophy” (his words), Obama said: “That’s the philosophy that got us into that mess. And we can’t afford to go back”.
In the space of a single speech that spanned just over 2,000 words, Obama summed up the entirety of his re-election message: 1) There have been provable successes because of actions his Administration has taken 2) He better understands what it means to be an American than do Republicans and 3) The Republican philosophy toward government represents a step backwards not a step forward.
And he delivered in a way — rabble-rousing populism — that is a nice fit for the mood in which much of the electorate finds itself. While Obama won’t likely be as forceful with swing voters in Ohio or North Carolina as he was with a friendly union crowd today, the UAW speech seemed to be something of a tone-setter for the campaign to come.
It also should serve as a reminder for Republicans that while Obama has struggled mightily at times at governance, he remains one of the most gifted — if not the most gifted — campaigners in modern politics. Beating him in November will be no easy task.