In Obama's backyard visits, GOP is the absent foe
DES MOINES, Iowa—A priest expressed concern to President Barack Obama about an unemployed parishioner. A businessman criticized Obama's tax policy. A woman said her son and his friends, once inspired by Obama, "are losing their hope."
Obama addressed all those concerns, and more, during his two-day, four-state tour that ended Wednesday in Richmond. In the middle, he drew raucous cheers at a college rally in Wisconsin.
Despite all his mingling with middle class voters, however, Obama's chief focus was on people who never showed up: congressional Republicans and their corporate allies who, the president said, are trying to thwart his administration's progress and turn the clock back to the George W. Bush era.
With his party facing potentially mammoth congressional and gubernatorial losses on Nov. 2, Obama is pouring more time into campaigning. In his so-called backyard visits -- a cramped recreation center room sufficed in rainy Richmond, Va. -- he repeatedly pivoted from a voter's question in order to fire criticisms at the GOP's record on taxes, student aid, even home weatherization.
With time running short, Obama also showed a plaintive side. He poked fun at himself and practically begged those who voted for him in 2008 to turn out this fall for congressional and gubernatorial Democratic candidates.
"I know times are tough," he told thousands of students at the University of Wisconsin on Tuesday. In 2008, he said, "the feeling was, well, this is just exciting. You got those nice 'Hope' posters."
"Sometimes it feels a long way from the hope and excitement that we felt on Election Day," he said, but young voters' involvement "can't end with the vote that you cast in 2008."
Still, Obama acknowledged that his promises to change the culture in Washington have been harder to fulfill than many of his supporters expected. He placed the blame on Republican lawmakers, who he said made a political calculation to oppose nearly all of his policies.
It's a strategy Obama said has been "pretty successful" given the sentiments of many voters heading into the midterm elections, including one woman in Des Moines who said her college-graduate son and his friends indeed "are losing their hope."
Obama cited his administration's steps to expand student loans, spur private job growth and promote innovation and entrepreneurship.
A man who described himself as a small-business owner manufacturing promotional items such as T-shirts and lawn signs criticized Obama's plans for allowing tax cuts on income over $250,000 a year to expire.
"As the government gets more and more involved in business and more and more involved in taxes, what you're finding is you're strangling those job creation vehicles," he said.
The president disputed that, saying he's already signed eight pieces of legislation providing small business tax cuts.
Showing some frustration, Obama said: "Your taxes haven't gone up in this administration. Your taxes have gone down in this administration. There's a notion that, well, he's a Democrat so your taxes must have gone up. That's just not true."
A priest told Obama of a parishioner who lost his job in manufacturing and can't find a new one. The president said that some manufacturing jobs won't come back and the parishioner might need to develop new skills to work in growth sectors like clean energy.
Even in an election season, the president said, he can't always tell people what they want to hear. Moving forward will take "some tough but necessary adjustments," he said.
In Washington, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., essentially called the president's efforts a sham. For the past 18 months, he said in the Senate, Americans have watched "a governing party that was more or less completely uninterested in what the governed had to say about the direction of our country."
"It has to stop," McConnell said.
The Nov. 2 election will pit Obama's presumably reinspired supporters against McConnell's angry voters.