By Kathleen Hennessey and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — Framing the November election as a defining moment for the middle class, President Barack Obama said voters would have a choice between his policies and Republicans’ “you’re-on-your-own economics” as he sought to energize his most devoted supporters after a deflating week.
In a pair of campaign speeches to supporters, Obama cast the Republican Party as controlled by its most conservative wing and described his own policies as driven by American values.
“You know, if you’re out of work, can’t find a job, tough luck; you’re on your own. If you don’t have health care, that’s your problem; you’re on your own. If you’re born into poverty, lift yourself up out of your own — with your own bootstraps, even if you don’t have boots; you’re on your own,” Obama said in remarks before a cheering crowd in Burlington, Vt. “Hey, they believe that’s how America has advanced. That’s the cramped, narrow conception they have of liberty.”
He continued: “This is not just your usual run-of-the-mill political debate. This is the defining issue of our time, a make-or-break moment for the middle class.”
The president’s remarks, a sharpened version of the stump speech he’s been delivering for weeks, punctuate what many viewed as a tough week for the centerpiece of his domestic policy portfolio. As he spoke, the Supreme Court likely had already voted on the fate of his health care law, although its ruling won’t be announced until June. In arguments this week, the lawyer defending the Affordable Care Act faced pointed questions from some Supreme Court justices, leading many in Washington to seriously consider the possibility that all or part of the law may be struck down.
The president included health care in his list of accomplishments as he tried to make a case for his re-election, but he did not offer an extended or fresh defense of the law. Instead, Obama linked the legislation to his broader agenda, including Wall Street and student loan reform and his tax policy plan that seeks to raise taxes on the wealthy.
“Either folks like me are doing more, or somebody who can’t afford it is getting less,” he said. “And that’s not right.”
Obama’s remarks came in an unlikely venue — the solidly blue state of Vermont, one that the president noted has gone the longest without a presidential visit.
“The last time a president stopped by was President Clinton in 1995. So we decided that today we are going to reset the clock,” Obama told the crowd.
Obama concluded his second speech just minutes before former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivered what was billed as major speech looking beyond the bitter and unusually long GOP nomination fight to the general election confrontation with the president. He repeatedly attacked what he called “Barack Obama’s government-centered society.”
“In the days and months ahead, we should ask ourselves some very fundamental questions about who we are as a nation and who we are becoming. What does it mean to be an American in 2012? What will it mean in 2016 and beyond? Are we keeping faith with the great legacy — and trust — that has been handed to us by previous generations? And what America will we leave the next generation?” Romney was to say, according to advance remarks.
The president did not name his Republican rivals or describe any of their policies in detail. But he described the party as out of sync with most voters and even past GOP nominees, and characterized their philosophy broadly as “you’re-on-your-own economics.”
“We just tried this. What they’re peddling we have tried. It did not work,” he said.
At another campaign event earlier in the day, the president suggested the November presidential election was “even more important” than the last.
“In 2008, I was running against a candidate who believed in climate change, believed in immigration reform, believed in the notion of reducing deficits in a balanced way. We had some profound disagreements but the Republican candidate for president understood that some of these challenges required compromise and bipartisanship,” Obama said. “I think it’s going to be a clarifying election about who we are and what we stand for.”