Obama Frames The Election

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 7 2011 @ 1:16pm

John Cassidy reacts to Obama's speech yesterday:

This isn’t the President saying he deserves to be on Mount Rushmore. This is Obama seeking to define the themes he intends to run on next year, to energize his disillusioned base, and to capitalize on a big change in the political climate. Teddy Roosevelt, whose famous “New Nationalism” speech in 1910 called upon the three branches of the federal government to put the public welfare before the interests of money and property, merely provided a convenient framing device.

Chait argues along the same lines:

This is the theme Obama has prepared for his campaign: himself, as champion of the middle class, against Romney, as modern-day robber baron. Of course, Romney happens to be rapidly falling behind Newt Gingrich in the race for the GOP nomination, but a campaign against Gingrich is probably something you hope for rather than plan for.


I counted 25 mentions of “middle class” in the speech. Finally—maybe, if he keeps it up—the Democrats have a broad and coherent response to trickle-down economics: middle-class economics. It’s ridiculously simple. It’s like a melody in a new pop song that you hear, and it’s so catchy and instantly memorable that you can’t believe that no one has written it until now.

What I found interesting is what Obama did not say. He made the case for higher taxes on the very wealthy not as an abstract redistributionist principle, but as an element of restoring the common good. Extreme inequality is deeply dangerous for a democracy. When that inequality also leads to buying influence in the Congress, then we are already in very deep.

I've heard many Suskind-style critiques of this president, primarily about his not seizing the moment in early 2009 to break up, nationalize or overhaul the temporarily weakened banking sector. All I can say is that I prefer a president who tackles the most pressing matter at hand first: the potential implosion of our entire financial system. If that meant holding the banks' hands for a while until things stabilized – and do these people remember what those days were like? – so what? Now is the time, having stabilized the situation, to tackle the deeper problems behind it.

I've been watching a lot of Fox lately to better understand the dynamics of the GOP race. Last night, propagandist Hannity – by far the most shameless of all of them – introduced a tape of Obama with a description of the speech as "class warfare". And then you heard the clips: about being one nation, built around middle class values, requiring everyone to sacrifice a little, but especially those who have gained so much in the last thirty years. The way Obama has framed this is especially helpful in deflecting the class warfare charge. And, in my view, campaigns that focus on the future rather than the past have an edge.