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Obama’s Occupy GOP Campaign

The president combines populist politics with historic maneuvers to defeat his foes

President Obama has appeared to launch his own version of an Occupy GOP movement. With steely determination, he’s prepared to engage in political combat to advance his economic agenda as he positions himself for campaign 2012.

The most recent evidence of his new, uncompromising posture was this week’s speech in the tiny hamlet of Osawatomie, Kansas (pop. 4,600). Seeking to connect with populist anger characterized by both the Tea Party movement and Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, the president vigorously pushed jobs creation, payroll tax cut extension and income equality as he indicted the GOP for turning their back on Middle America.

In the 55-minute address, he deftly laid out the reasons behind the nation’s economic and political crises, and maintained that “the breathtaking greed of a few with irresponsibility all across” the financial system had the effect of claiming “the jobs and the homes and the basic security of millions of people—innocent, hardworking Americans who had met their responsibilities but were still left holding the bag.”

“Ever since, there’s been a raging debate over the best way to restore growth and prosperity, restore balance, restore fairness.  Throughout the country, its sparked protests and political movements—from the Tea Party to the people who’ve been occupying the streets of New York and other cities,” the president told the crowd of 1,200 as he was interrupted by periodic bursts of applause. “This is the defining issue of our time… This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.  Because what’s at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement.”

Most political observers note that Obama’s remarks channeled another young president who delivered an address in the same venue roughly a century ago: Theodore Roosevelt. The Republican reformer’s “New Nationalism” speech was a call for a 20th Century brand of progressive politics in which ordinary citizens would be protected from the avarice and recklessness of big business and special interests of that era. Known to take full advantage of historic symbolism—evoking presidents such as Lincoln, FDR and Reagan in past policy speeches—Obama used the location and sharp rhetoric as part of his bully pulpit (a term coined by Roosevelt).

In making his latest power move, Obama is applying populism, in part, as his big stick, communicating his willingness to fight for preservation of the middle class and defense of those trapped below the poverty line. His strategic approach casts Republicans as the unreasonable, intransigent party of the powerful and privileged, placing politics and ideology over the best interests of our country.

Without a doubt, the president needs to boost confidence among much of the American public. Obama must convince them he’s their unwavering champion as well as a pragmatic leader. His rep took serious hits after the catastrophic debt-ceiling negotiations with congressional Republicans during the summer, and when his mammoth $447 billion American Jobs Act was blocked in the Democratic-controlled Senate. And despite a recent jobs report that showed national unemployment declined from 9% in October to 8.6% in November—African American unemployment, however, actually rose from 15.1% to 15.5%—his job approval rating slid to 41% in Gallup’s latest daily tracking poll, with a disapproval at 51%. The figures offer the widest gap between the president’s approval and disapproval numbers in recent weeks.

Since incumbents run on their record, the president must clearly show why he deserves a second term, an alternative to the candidate who will eventually receive the GOP nod. (With three weeks before the start of primary season, the most likely pick will be former House Speaker Newt Gingrich or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.)  So Obama’s challenge or opportunity—depending on the lens you use—will be to make the case that he has placed the country on the right course.

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  • Dave

    First, let’s get this out of the way, I’m a 58 year old white man from New Orleans. While the people in this article have a tendency to focus on the black communities, it is poverty that is the main topic. Having lived in a city with 68% black population, I can understand their perspective. Poverty exists in communities that span all races, so even if the focus is on black communities, the principles developed can be transferred , to a greater or lesser degree, to the other communities. I’ve work for the government in these neighborhoods and have personally seen it for myself. That’s why I think this current argument about contraception is appauling. One of the things that ensures continuation of poverty is the muliple pregnancies of young girls, with multiple partners. This problem can be reduced by counceling at family planning and the use of contraceptives. The Republican candidates have absolutely no clue when it comes to any of this. They also have not expressed any sound ideas or a willingness to attack this problem and help the less fortunate attain the education and skills to improve their lives. You may not be happy with a lot of things President Obama has done, but believe me, “President Romney” would make things much worse.
    I hope this makes sense, since I tend to ramble too much.

  • GonzaLo

    My 13 year old son likes to run around in the woods with his aisorft rifle so every other weekend he goes out in the woods for these aisorft games where they wear protective gear and shoot plastic pellets at each other lots of fun, right? I like the idea of him being out in the fresh air with men of ages 12 to 60 forming brigades and playing soldier great stuff.This past weekend I was disappointed to hear that the organizers put a man in a suit and Obama mask as a target to play a round of Kill Obama . He ran around and all the guts n glory guys took shots at him for fun. At first I was disappointed then I thought I’d lodge a complaint (I mean this is my president, right?), in the end I just decided that my son is old enough to make up his own mind about what kind of person he wants to be. His half-brother Junie is black and his best little brother.What’s wrong with America? I can’t fix people, but I can damn sure help to create a great man my son. This weekend he’s back at it again with his rifle learning from the stupid adults.

  • Thekairi

    The comment that Mike made was about how irnioc it was that the tornadoes were striking in the Bible Belt. He wasn’t talking about the victims. How many people (especially the politicians) in the South believe that God is on their side. If He is, then He’s not doing a good job. Just like when Texas was on fire, what was Rick Perry’s brilliant idea? Have a prayer mass with racist, homophobic pastors at his side. It’s terrible when tragedy strikes and when people die. But if the Right is looking for someone worst than Limbaugh, let me assure you, Malloy isn’t. In fact, nobody is worse than Limbaugh.

  • Shelina

    “On health care”Whatever the pbulic opinion stands of its percentage, multiply that with 2 and then see if the plan stands for the wise heads to pass because maturity of wisdom should not be seen of its static position when change presents itself through an able being of life. Incidentally that is not Obama entirely but is the surplus that stands behind him and America to be in glory in times to come? This is an uncategorized comment on health care where perhaps America’s elite might feel that no outside power has a right to speak on the internal affairs of America and its rule? Sorry, it is not me conveying this but Krishna for America in human terms of its development.