At Franklin Institute, Obama Plays Up Most Vulnerable Positions
President Barack Obama was in town yesterday for three high-reward (see: cash) events at the Franklin Institute. Speaking to about 500 people in the Institute’s rotunda, Obama hit several campaign centerpieces, including American innovation, his own successes in office and what Romney’s plans may be, should he win the presidential election.
Journalists on the scene missed the pre-program, featuring Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Mayor Michael Nutter, Reps. Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah, and Senator Bob Casey—all of whom spoke about the president’s re-election campaign. By the time we were shuffled in, it was Obama’s turn to speak. And he began with some hometown references to get the crowd going.
“It is good to be among so many good friends, including Benjamin Franklin — one of my favorite Founders,” said the president, noting the larger-than-life statue of Ben Franklin in the Institute’s rotunda. The crowd liked that. He continued: “I have to admit, I had to restrain myself because this is such an amazing facility, and just wandering around I started reading about all kinds of American history and that the Dead Sea Scrolls were here. Staff was saying, Mr. President, you have some other stuff that you have to do.”
Earlier in the night, the president hosted a $40,000-per ticket roundtable discussion with 25 attendees, according to the Obama Campaign. Later on, he’d host a $10,000-per ticket surf and turf dinner. Tickets to the rotunda speech began at $250.
The president acknowledged the Philadelphia delegation “in the house” with him, and referred to Mayor Nutter as “one of the best mayors in the country.” His words for Senator Bob Casey, an early 2008 supporter, were additionally warm.
He then got into it, taking on the issues many have called his biggest liabilities—most surprising of all, the national deficit, beginning with the history that led to his own election.
“We had taken a surplus, left behind by President Clinton, and turned it into deficits as far as the eye could see — not because we invested in our economic future, but because we gave tax cuts to folks who didn’t need them and weren’t even asking for them,” he said. “We put two wars on a credit card. Our economy increasingly was built on financial speculation and a housing bubble. Manufacturing was leaving our shores.”
Although many were doing very well, he said, middle class wages were flatlining and by the time his election came to pass, we were in a full downward spiral. This would later be referred to as “The Obama Recession,” by right wing radio hosts, many of whom conspiracized that Obama’s election is what sent the markets crashing, even though negative job growth had begun as early as 2007. It was likely the first time a president-elect was blamed for economic problems he did not preside over.
Obama then hit on the auto bailout (“because of the actions that we took, GM is back on top and we’re seeing the auto industry rehiring and producing better cars than ever”) and noted the United States has created 4.3 million jobs during his presidency in spite of losses in the public sector.
“Now, does that mean that I’m satisfied?” he asked. “Does that mean we are satisfied? Absolutely not.”
And despite his own policies working perhaps slowly, he said, all the Republicans are offering is “retreads of stuff that we have tried and that have failed.”
Specifically, he said, “it boils down to deeper tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, $5 trillion in tax cuts on top of the Bush tax cuts, an average of a 25 percent tax cut for millionaires all across the country, and the elimination of regulations that would make sure that Wall Street doesn’t engage in the kind of behavior that resulted in this crisis; that would roll back the kinds of progress we’ve made making sure insurance companies can’t drop you when you get sick; that would roll back environmental and worker protection and consumer protections that we have been working on not just during my administration, but for the last 30, 40 years. And that’s it.” Going along with his campaign slogan of ‘Forward,’ the president referred to overturning these changes his administration had made as a step in the wrong direction. It was a clear contrast to what the Republicans have been teeing up.
The president’s critics have been hitting him hard on many of the issues he took to touting last night. In spite of his rhetoric claiming a declining unemployment rate, Republicans have claimed this is mostly due to people giving up on finding a job and dropping out of the workforce. On a pre-emptive conference call earlier in the day, Pennsylvania GOP chair Rob Gleason noted that “we’re not doing fine,” referencing Obama’s gaffe-ous statement Friday that the private sector is, in fact, doing fine. “You’re not doing fine, either. It’s time for you to go,” Gleason continued.
Additionally, although Obama leads Romney in Pennsylvania by either 12 or 6 points, depending on the poll, Buzzfeed led with a headline yesterday that Clinton-era Democrats want the president to pursue a new message. (This headline was a bit misleading, as it was more about disagreements between 1992 and 1996 Clintonistas, which have gone on since that time.) Some have called his campaign too negative against Romney, including former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. The governor took to his ‘Wusses’ book to double-down on his initial 2008 support of now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over Obama. Last month was the first in which the Romney campaign out-fundraised the Obama Camp, which led to a BarackObama.com fundraising email subject line reading, “We got beat.”
But the Franklin Institute crowd wasn’t letting the negative publicity get in their heads. The president was interrupted multiple times with loud, screaming applause, some of which came in the middle of his sentences. So much so, we could barely hear the beginning of Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” coming from the room’s speakers when the president finished.