Billing the campaign as a choice between “two fundamentally different visions” for America, President Obama argued Thursday that without his leadership, Republicans would return the country to the policies that led to the 2008 economic meltdown.
“What’s holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fully different views of which direction America should take,” Obama said in a nearly hourlong speech to Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, “and this election is your chance to break that stalemate.”
Obama offered up a detailed rehash of the decade that preceded him taking office, arguing that Republican’s economic program of tax cuts for the wealthy and reduced regulations for business had been tested before and failed, resulting in the financial collapse of 2008 and the subsequent job losses and expanded deficits Republicans are now attributing to the White House.
Obama mentioned President Bush only in passing, but the speech represented his most focused argument that Republicans policies devastated the country over the last decade, to the point that the recovery is only beginning to succeed. He noted that in Europe — where austerity measures have been implemented — the unemployment rate is 11 percent and some countries are still in recession, in contrast with an American economy that’s been growing at a modest pace for three years.
“We tried this,” Obama said. “Their policies did not grow the economy, they did not grow the middle class, they did not reduce our debt.”
He said that “if you want to give the policies of the last decade another try, then you should vote for Mr. Romney.”
The president’s campaign had billed the address as a major new direction in its message that would draw a stronger contrast between Obama and Romney on the economy. As promised, Obama excoriated Romney’s economic plan, saying he had “not seen a single independent analysis that says my opponent’s economic plan would actually reduce the deficit” and citing a recent statement by an adviser at Moody’s that Romney’s proposed budget cuts would actually shrink employment in the short term. He warned that cuts to free up cash for a $5 trillion tax cut would imperil education and infrastructure, while a reversal of the Affordable Care Act would leave 33 million without health insurance.
“Gov. Romney and the Republicans who run Congress believe that if you simply take away regulations and cut taxes by trillions of dollars, the market will solve all of our problems on its own — If you agree with that, you should vote for them and I promise you they will take us in that direction,” Obama said. “I believe we need a plan for better education and training and for energy independence, rebuilding our infrastructure, for a tax code that creates jobs in America and pays down our debt in a way that’s balanced. I have that plan, they don’t. And if you agree with me, if you believe this economy grows best when everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules, then I ask you to stand with me for a second term as president.”
Mocking the “scary voice in the ads” from conservative groups already targeting him in battleground states, Obama urged voters to “render a verdict on the debate over how to grow the economy” and ignore the day-to-day noise.
Directly before Obama’s speech, Mitt Romney delivered an address of his own in the same state. Playing up the dueling speeches angle, Romney’s campaign bus circled the site of Obama’s speech ahead of the president’s address, honking its horn at Obama supporters.
Romney argued in his speech that Obama is all words but no action. “He’s going to be a person of eloquence, as he describes his plans for making the economy better, but don’t forget, he’s been president for 3 1/2 years,” Romney said from Cincinnati. “And talk is cheap. Action speaks very loud.”
Romney quickly fell into his stump speech, arguing that under President Obama, the recovery has stalled and his policies have made it more difficult for small businesses to create jobs. But he also harkened back to a theme he began using in the primary, the idea that Obama has fallen short of his promises.
“He’s going to be saying today that he wants four more years,” Romney said. “He may have forgotten he talked about a one-term proposition if he couldn’t get the economy turned around in three years. But we’re going to hold him to his word now, I know that he — he will have all sorts of excuses and he’ll have all sorts of ideas he’ll describe about how he’ll make things better.”
But, Romney said, don’t be swayed by his words. “What he says and what he does are not always the exact same thing,” he said.
Pema Levy contributed to this story.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.