Obama contrasts himself with Romney, calls Americans ‘good and decent’

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

President Barack Obama used a $40,000 per ticket gala Tuesday to praise Americans as good and decent, likely kicking off a renewed effort to portray his GOP rival as harsh and mean.

The new passage in his stump speech matches other Democrats’ efforts to exploit Gov. Mitt Romney‘s off-the-cuff videotaped declaration in May that the 47 percent of the electorate who get government payments won’t vote for the GOP.

That crude prediction has been decried by conservatives as a mangled expression of the conservative judgment that government officials tend to extend dependency, even though many recipients try to escape government aid.

Democrats are using Romney’s campaign-strategy analysis to persuade swing-voters that he doesn’t care about their well-being.

“Most people are good and they’re decent and they’re trying to do the right thing,” Obama told his $40,000-per-ticket fundraiser in New York, which was held an expensive nightclub that features a floor-to-ceiling tower of gold-plated champagne bottles.

“That encourages me, that makes me feel good,” he told his wealthy supporters, who included two famous entertainers, Jay-Z and Beyonce, who he called “Jay and Bey.”

The good-and-decent pitch followed a friendly discussion on David Letterman’s TV show, where Obama also pushed the claim that a President Mitt Romney would only want to help people who voted for him.

“If you want to be president you’ve got to work for everybody, not just for some,” said Obama, who has presided over an extended period of partisan conflict and bitterness.

“This is a big country. … People disagree a lot, but one thing I’ve never tried to do, and I think none of us can do in public office, is suggest that because someone doesn’t agree with me that they’re victims or they’re unpatriotic,” Obama claimed.

That’s a sharply different pitch from last year, when Obama routinely declared that the GOP was putting “party before country.”

His new “good and decent” pitch also contrasts with his closed-door statements to donors in May 2008.

Poor white Democrats “feel so betrayed by government … so it is not surprising then that they get bitter and they cling to guns or religion or antipathy towards people who are not like them as a way to explain their frustrations,” he told a roomful of wealthy donors as he competed against Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

But the new “good and decent” claim is likely to become a staple in his stump-speech as he tries to win votes amid a stalled economy, spreading unemployment, record deficits, declining incomes and rising prices.

“People ask me, how do you handle all the criticism and the media and the scrutiny and the pressure and this and that and the other,” Obama told the New York donors.

“I tell them there are two things that allow me to not just survive this but to thrive and enjoy it,” he insisted.

“The first is the American people. Because when you travel around the country, it turns out that they’re so much better than the kind of politics we see in Washington,” he said.

Americans’ views, he claimed, match his 2012 campaign themes.

“They may not follow every issue and know exactly what is going on, but their basic instinct is let’s give everybody a fair shot and let’s make sure everybody does their fair share, and let’s make sure everybody is playing by the same set of rules,” he announced.

He repeated the “good and decent” pitch several times.

“When I hear people trying to label folks as, well, these are Republicans, or these are Democrats, or these are people who don’t understand the country — when I hear those divisions, I say, well, you’re not paying attention to what’s going on in the country. There’s a lot of good out there,” said Obama, who has repeatedly stayed silent while his allies pillory conservatives as racists, liars and bigots.

At his September convention in Charlotte, for example, former Ohio governor Ted Strickland slammed Romney as unpatriotic and un-American.

“Mitt Romney has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport. It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps,” Strickland said to cheers from at least 10,000 Democrats.

Romney is also “lying” about the president’’ policy for welfare-to-work, Strickland declared from the podium. (RELATED: 20,000 Democrats cheer attacks on Romney’s patriotism)

Obama’s pitch was made possible by extensive media coverage of Romney’s presentation to wealthy donors in Florida.

Romney argued that he has to woo a small segment of swing-voters because 47 percent of voters are committed to vote for Obama.

But Romney appeared to believe and argue that taxpayers will vote for him because of his promise to cut taxes, and that non-taxpaying Americans will vote for Obama because he’s promising them benefits.

“There are 47 percent who are with him. Who are dependent upon government, who believe that — that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.  But that’s — it’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what,” he said.

The day after the video was released, Romney tried to get beyond the “47 percent” language by highlighting the related ideological divide between him and Obama.

“My campaign is about helping people take more responsibility and becoming employed again, particularly those who don’t have work,” Romney told reporters in California who asked him late Monday about the covertly taped video.

The election “is ultimately a question about direction for the country; Do you believe in a government-centered society that provides more and more benefits or do you believe instead in a free enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams?” he told the reporters.

Follow Neil on Twitter