Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Obama changes the subject

...that is, the grammatical subject of his sentences when he's calling out certain parties for obstructing his jobs agenda.

Jonathan Cohn has already made this point in brief. But I'm going to gild the lily, overemphasize it, put the obvious in boldface below, because this rhetorical turn goes to the heart of how Obama has driven his supporters mad in recent months via continued pursuit of compromise and bipartisan cooperation with those who keep drive-by shooting him.

On Labor Day, Obama moved away from his months-long practice of criticizing "Congress" for blocking formerly bipartisan, consensus measures to boost trade and growth and instead called out "congressional Republicans." Got that?  The subject (or object) of the sentence is not "Congress" (sidelined as an adjective) but "Republicans." Way to call a spade a spade, Mr. President. It's been a long time coming.

Compare the pablum in Obama's Sept. 3 weekly address:

Usually, renewing this transportation bill is a no-brainer.  In fact, Congress has renewed it seven times over the last two years.  But thanks to political posturing in Washington, they haven’t been able to extend it this time – and the clock is running out...

128 mayors from both parties wrote to Congress asking them to come together and pass a clean extension.  These are the local leaders who are on the ground every day, and who know what would happen to their communities if Congress fails to act.

So I’m calling on Congress, as soon as they come back, to pass a clean extension of the transportation bill to keep workers on the job, keep critical projects moving forward, and to give folks a sense of security.
To this in Michigan two days later, on Labor Day:
So I’m going to propose ways to put America back to work that both parties can agree to, because I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems.  And given the urgency of this moment, given the hardship that many people are facing, folks have got to get together.

But we’re not going to wait for them.  (Applause.)  We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress.  We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party.  (Applause.)  We’ll give them a plan, and then we’ll say, do you want to create jobs?  Then put our construction workers back to work rebuilding America.  (Applause.)  Do you want to help our companies succeed?  Open up new markets for them to sell their products.  You want -- you say you’re the party of tax cuts?  Well then, prove you’ll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle-class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans.  (Applause.)  Show us what you got.  (Applause.)

The time for Washington games is over.  (Applause.)  The time for action is now.  No more manufactured crises.  No more games.  Now is not the time for the people you sent to Washington to worry about their jobs; now is the time for them to worry about your jobs.  (Applause.)...
When you name the subject accurately, the pronouns work for you.  "You" equals Republicans.  Politics 101, Mr. President.  Politics you can't change. You can be civil by sticking to policy, by calling out your opponents for their actions and policies.  But it's not civility to refuse to call your adversary by name. It's obfuscation. It's disloyalty to your allies and supporters.

In Michigan, Obama called out Republicans by name twice: first, above, for sabotaging policies they've historically supported, and then, below, for perpetuating their historic assault on labor.
Now, let me say a word about labor in particular.  Now, I know this is not going to be an easy time.  I know it’s not easy when there's some folks who have their sights trained on you.  After all that unions have done to build and protect the middle class, you’ve got people trying to claim that you’re responsible for the problems middle-class folks are facing.
AUDIENCE:  Booo --

THE PRESIDENT:  You’ve got Republicans saying you’re the ones exploiting working families.  Imagine that.

Now, the fact is, our economy is stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits.  (Applause.)  Our economy is stronger when we've got broad-based growth and broad-based prosperity.  That’s what unions have always been about -- shared prosperity.

That is a return to a core 2008 campaign theme -- restoring an ethic of shared prosperity, i.e. moving the center left, correcting the post-Reagan swing toward income inequality and disempowered labor. Lest anyone miss the historical context, Obama spelled it out -- and signaled that he's absorbed the calls to study give-em-hell-Harry's playbook:

You know, I was on the plane flying over here, and Carl Levin was with me, and he showed me a speech that Harry Truman had given on Labor Day 63 years ago, right here in Detroit -- 63 years ago.  And just to show that things haven't changed much, he talked about how Americans had voted in some folks into Congress who weren’t very friendly to labor.  And he pointed out that some working folks and even some union members voted these folks in.  And now they were learning their lesson.  And he pointed out that -- and I'm quoting here -- “the gains of labor were not accomplished at the expense of the rest of the nation.  Labor’s gains contributed to the nation’s general prosperity.”  (Applause.)

What was true back in 1948 is true in 2011.  When working families are doing well, when they're getting a decent wage and they're getting decent benefits, that means they're good customers for businesses.  (Applause.)  That means they can buy the cars that you build.  (Applause.)  That means that you can buy the food from the farmers.  That means you can buy from Silicon Valley.  You are creating prosperity when you share in prosperity.  (Applause.)
I have been reading about the Depression lately, and it comes home page after page that we are re-litigating these ancient battles: to boost demand by strengthening the purchasing power of the working and middle classes, to create an environment in which capitalism can flourish by establishing or shoring up the pillars of of economic security.  Rick Perry has explicitly advocated rolling back the New Deal -- calling Social Security unconstitutional, lamenting the Federal government's power to levy income taxes.  Obama's signature accomplishment, like Roosevelt's, hang by the thread of a conservative and divided Supreme Court.

It's good to see Obama recognize the battle lines. Here's hoping he'll man them over the next fourteen months.

No comments:

Post a Comment