Obama out to embrace Roosevelt gameplan

THE phoney war ahead of the US election campaign appears to be drawing to an end after president Barack Obama made a play for America’s middle-class vote, throwing his opponents onto the back foot.

In a high-profile address, the Democrat president invoked the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt and borrowed from the language of the Occupy Wall Street movement to argue for shrinking the wealth divide.

In so doing he piled pressure on the Republican Party fighting in Congress over income tax and set out his stall ahead of next year’s presidential run-off.

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In a ploy that suggests Mr Obama is willing to reach out to America’s heartlands to shore up his vote, he travelled to a small town in Kansas on Tuesday to issue a rallying cry to the middle classes. The choice of Osawatomie was deliberate. In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt visited to lay out his vision for a stronger central government to regulate the economy and protect jobs.

Echoing his predecessor’s New Nationalism address, Mr Obama put himself forward as a defender of America’s middle class, contrasting his policies with that of billionaire-friendly Republicans. Blaming the “breath-taking greed” of a few in Wall Street, he said ordinary hard-working Americans had been left “holding the bag” for the financial crisis.

His address, in front of a crowd of 1,200 inside a high school gym, dressed the economic debate as one between what is fair and what is unfair.

Describing it as the “defining issue of our time,” he said: “This is a make or break moment for the middle class, and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.

“At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build modest savings, own a home and secure their retirement.”

The president attacked the “collective amnesia” of those pushing for lighter regulation and a tax agenda that would continue to see the super-rich pay less than many of their employees.

“I believe this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules,” he said, adding: “We simply cannot return to this brand of you’re-on-your-own economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country.”

The speech laid out the policies Mr Obama’s team hope will win his re-election in 2012.

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In making the case for tax reform that places a heavier burden on the rich, Mr Obama sought to put clear water between him and his would-be challengers.

All his would-be Republican challengers are committed to a low-tax agenda, appeasing their right-wing but allowing Mr Obama a chance to outflank them. If he can frame the presidential election to be a choice between his “fairness” agenda and a Republican Party seeking to maintain Bush-era tax relief for the super-rich, then he may sneak a second term despite high unemployment and a sluggish recovery.

Anticipating claims that he is out to soak the rich, Mr Obama’s Osawatomie address noted that Roosevelt – a Republican – was called a radical and a socialist by detractors. “This isn’t about class warfare. This is about the nation’s welfare,” he said.