Obama used to amuse crowds with an allegory about Republicans who had
driven the economy into a ditch and were now complaining that he wasn’t
getting it out of the ditch fast enough. Five years into his tenure, his own Presidency is now stuck in a ditch of low approval and lingering questions about his honesty. Today he effectively put on the left turn signal to try and rally supporters to help get him back on the road.
After weeks playing defense, the President switched into attack mode this week. The plan was to reassure nervous Democrats by devoting energy to a new PR blitz highlighting popular features of his struggling health care law. But Wednesday the President did something else. He rallied the troops with a class warfare speech which, two years ago, would have been greeted with uptwinkles in any Occupy camp in the country.
“Growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain, that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead,” the President intoned in front of a group of supporters at the Center for American Progress. Suddenly, at his lowest moment, the President has discovered “the defining issue of our time.”
It’s a transparent political move. Obama needs to change the subject and to try and put together some semblance of a plan for his next three years in office. Playing defense on Obamacare is not an appealing theme for a State of the Union message. But the President’s speech shows he still doesn’t grasp how desperate this latest lurch to the left will appear outside the progressive think tank bubble where he spoke today.
Everything the President said today is left wing boilerplate. You can find examples of everyone from socialist Bernie Sanders to unionist Dick Trumka making the same speech fondly recalling a postwar America where manufacturing built a strong middle class and one breadwinner could maintain a home. Despite years spent mocking the GOP as a party eager to take the country back to the 1950s, it’s the Democrats who seem most eager to return to this time.
The only thing that is new about the President’s speech is that he seems to be suggesting he is the class warrior we have been waiting for. At the lowest point in his presidency with his approval underwater by double digits, this is about solving his political problem more than it is about addressing an economic one.
The President is stuck in a ditch. All that’s really left for him to do is signal that, in his heart, he’d like to go left if he could. Maybe some on the left will push harder but with only 1 percent of Americans ranking income inequality a priority issue, it’s not likely to be a big help to Democrats in 2014.