Addressing Iowa Democrats, Obama frames 2012 race as one ‘for our children’

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama offered a truncated version of his campaign-dinner speech to Iowa campaign workers and caucus attendees Tuesday night, complete with personal anecdotes, claims of political success, appeals for more donations and a glimpse of how he hopes to portray the stakes of the 2012 election.

“Part of what 2012 is about is both reminding the American people of how far we’ve traveled and the concrete effects that some of our work … but part of it is also framing this larger debate about what kind of country are we going to leave for our children and our grandchildren,” he said.

As part of that reframing effort, Obama caricatured the GOP’s free-market policies as “a different theory that says, we’re going to cut taxes for the wealthiest among us, and roll back regulations on things like clean air and health care reform and Wall Street reform, and that somehow, automatically, that assures that everybody is able to succeed.”

“I don’t believe that” theory, said Obama, who has described himself as a progressive.

Progressives, generally speaking, believe that university-trained managers should manage people’s economic and social lives. Conservatives, including social conservatives and libertarians, object to government-imposed management of the economy and society.

Obama also framed his progressive goals in the populist language chosen for his Dec. 6 speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, saying he was fighting for “an America where [government ensured] everybody had a fair shot, everybody did their fair share; that responsibility was rewarded and that the game wasn’t fixed.”

Obama is also likely to use the same populist terms in his planned Jan. 4 speech at Shaker Heights High School near in Cleveland, Ohio.

The progressive ambition of this populist pitch was underlined when he urged more government management of competition in the financial sector, despite the central role that federal regulators played in the gradual creation and 2007 implosion of the disastrous real-estate bubble.

“If you want to compete in a free market,” he told the campaign workers, “then you should compete on the basis of price and service and quality, not on the basis of somebody not being able to understand what they’re buying,” he declared.

But efforts by government regulators to manage tens of millions of diverse consumers’ understanding of products and services would choke competition, curb economic growth, constrict the supply of new products, and also subordinate business owners to government managers, say free-market advocates.

This pitch is a harder-edged reprise of his 2008 victory speech at the Iowa caucus, where he beat then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.

“Sometimes, just sometimes, there are nights like this; a night that, years from now, when we’ve made the changes we believe in, when more families can afford to see a doctor, when our children — when Malia and Sasha and your children inherit a planet that’s a little cleaner and safer, when the world sees America differently, and America sees itself as a nation less divided and more united, you’ll be able to look back with pride and say that this was the moment when it all began,” he declared in January 2008.

At several points in Obama’s speech this year, which was carried on a closed network to hundreds of Democratic caucus sites, he also portrayed himself as the underdog facing a predicted a difficult election and then urged his campaign workers to do more.

“There are a lot of forces that want to push back against us … we’re battling millions of dollars of negative advertising and lobbyists and special interests who don’t want to see the change that you worked so hard to fully take root … Change is never easy,” he said.

“So the only way we’re going to be able to do that is if all of you maintain the same determination, the same energy, the same drive, the same hopefulness, the same optimism,” he said. “When people at grassroots level are getting involved and they’re getting engaged, and they’re feeling empowered and they’re joining hands with each other — that’s a powerful force.”

When touting his accomplishments, he cited his unpopular Obamacare health-sector takeover, this increased spending on government loans and grants to offset even faster increases in college costs, the law requiring military acceptance of gay and lesbian soldiers, and his increased regulation of Wall Street.

The question-and-answer period included only two canned questions from picked volunteers at caucuses in Coraville and Cedar Rapids, which prompted 687-word and 407-word responses from Obama.

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