United States President Barack Obama will begin a renewed focus on the economy and the middle class in what the White House is billing as a major policy address on Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois where the President will outline his second term economic plans. Obama is attempting to refocus his attention on the economy after spending the months since his reelection mostly on disasters, distractions and other policy issues.
The White House announced that Obama will embark on a series of speeches to drum up support for his second term economic agenda. Dan Pfeiffer, a senior Obama advisor announced the speaking tour in a mass email to White House supporters Sunday night with the subject heading “I don’t normally do this.”
Pfieffer also wrote an extensive post Monday on the White House blog hyping the Wednesday address entitled, “You’re Going to Want to Watch This Speech.” The post repeated much of the Sunday email and introduced the speech at Knox College and the series of speeches Obama will deliver during the rest of the summer. Both the email and blog post were meant as teasers to entice public interest. The post also looked back at Obama’s first economic address at the college and his most important economic speeches as president.
In the post Pfieffer laid out the focus of the address and the tour; “The President will return to Knox College to kick off a series of speeches that will lay out his vision for rebuilding an economy that puts the middle class and those fighting to join it front and center. He’ll talk about the progress we’ve made together, the challenges that remain, and the path forward.”
Pfieffer detailed some of the topics and solutions Obama will cover in speaking tour; “And over the next several weeks, the President will deliver speeches that touch on the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class in America: job security, a good education, a home to call your own, affordable health care when you get sick, and the chance to save for a secure, dignified retirement. They will include new ideas and new pushes for ideas he has discussed before. They’ll outline steps Congress can take, steps he’ll take on his own, and steps the private sector can take that benefit us all.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated the original announcement telling the press during his Monday daily briefing; “The issues he’ll be talking about are the issues that the American people care most deeply — the ones that go to the heart of their experience, the heart of whether or not they can confidently envision an America that will allow for their children to live at least as well as they have, and thus fulfill the American Dream.”
The president himself decided to give his supporters at an Organizing for Action (OAF) event a preview of Wednesday’s speech Monday when he spoke at the organization established from his successful campaign machine; “It’s going to be the kickoff to what is essentially several months of us trying to get Washington and the press to refocus on the economy and the struggles that middle-class families are going through, but also for us to start exploring some big and bold ideas.”
For his first address on Wednesday, Obama is returning Galesburg, Illinois and to the college where he gave his first economic address as the newly minted junior senator from Illinois. In 2005, Obama delivered a 24 minute commencement address at Knox College. That speech “sowed the seeds” of his economic philosophy and where he introduced the hallmark themes of his 2008 Presidential campaign and his first term as president, improving the economy for middle class Americans, and initiatives for America in the global economy.
Obama’s former speech writer Jon Favreau recounted that Obama’s 2005 Galesburg address was the prototype for all subsequent economic speeches saying; “Every economic speech has built on that first one.”
The president is returning to those roots with this economic speech focusing on improving conditions for the middle class. Obama will be speaking in the noon hour at Knox College and will give a second speech later in the afternoon at University of Central Missouri, in Warrensburg, Mo., and will continue on to Jacksonville, Fl. on Thursday for another economic address.
Obama is launching his renewed effort at a town that he has a past with and has a compelling story with its own set of complicated economic woes. Besides giving his first economic speech on the national stage in 2005; he first visited the town of 30,000 when Rep. Lane Evans endorsed his as a Senate candidate in 2003. In 2004, Galesburg suffered a huge set back when the Maytag refrigeration plant that employed 900 closed only to reopen in Mexico, outsourcing for cheaper labor, the town still has not recovered. Obama mentioned Galesburg in his groundbreaking keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. He returned to the Illinois town’s continuing problems in his 2010 State of the Union address. Obama was last in Galesburg, during a 2011 bus tour for job creation.
The president’s continuing devotion to Galesburg prompted hundreds of residents to begin lining up as early as 7 a.m. on Monday to obtain tickets from Knox College’s communications office for the president’s speech.
Obama is working to gain public support before a number of economic policy related battles he will have with the Republican Congress this fall, especially relating to taxes, spending cuts, the debt ceiling and the budget for the new fiscal year that starts in October.
President Obama is hoping if the public is behind him and his policies, it will convince Republicans to work him, especially with the midterm elections only a year away. As Pfeiffer wrote; “And in a couple of months, we will face some more critical budget deadlines that require congressional action, not showdowns that only serve to harm families and businesses – and the president wants to talk about the issues that should be at the core of that debate.”
This is not the first time Obama has taken to stump, making what are billed as major tours and speeches in his attempt to fix the embattled economy. Obama has embarked on a total of eight speaking tours focusing on the economy, his most recent one was in May, the “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour.” However, they have resulted in few legislative results. The same can be said of his most touted speeches; at Georgetown University in April 2009 and Osawatomie, Kansas in Dec. 2011.
Carney even admitted to the recycled strategy saying; “We plead guilty to the charge that there is a thematic continuity that exists between the speech the president will give in Galesburg, at Knox College on Wednesday, and his speech in Osawatomie [Kansas, in 2011] and his speech back at Knox College in 2005.”
Republicans however, are receiving news of Obama’s renewed commitment to the economy with skepticism, criticizing Obama’s continued reliance on speeches and rhetoric rather than solid actions to solve the nation’s problems.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski sarcastically commented on Obama’s stale and repeated strategy; “Speeches don’t hire people. Speeches don’t get things done in Congress.” While House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, (R-Va.) stated “Another presidential speech is not going to help a mom or a dad who is out of work who frankly needs some job training or needs some help to get back up on that ladder of success.”
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (R-Oh.) responded with the comment; “We welcome the president’s focus on the economy, but given that so many are still struggling after nearly five years, it’s clear his agenda of higher taxes and higher spending isn’t the answer. He also tweeted a more cynical remark; The “clearest indication the president’s [economic] speeches will be a nothing-burger is how hard the [White House] is working to convince people it’s actually not.”
Boehner derided Obama’s policy of a speech as a solution in a Tuesday press conference at the Capital; “Tomorrow the president says he’s going to go out and pivot back to jobs. Well, welcome to the conversation, Mr. President. If the president was serious about helping our economy, he wouldn’t give another speech. He’d reach out and actually work with us.”
The Republican leader in the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.) equally criticized Obama’s old methods, speaking from the Senate floor he stated; “If Washington Democrats were really serious about turning the economy around, they’d be working collaboratively with Republicans to do just that, instead of just sitting on the sidelines and waiting to take their cues from the endless political road-shows the president cooks up whenever he feels like changing the topic.”
Pfieffer dismissed all of the criticism preemptively by stating in his blog post; “the President thinks Washington has largely taken its eye off the ball on the most important issue facing the country. Instead of talking about how to help the middle class, too many in Congress are trying to score political points, refight old battles, and trump up phony scandals.”
According to a new Gallup Poll released this week Obama’s approval rating is tanking in the 18th quarter of his presidency, for the three month period from April to July, President Obama is now down to just 47.9 percent. At the same time Obama’s daily approval rating has remained below 50 percent since the end of June. Refocusing his message and priorities on the economy might help his sagging poll numbers.
The President’s agenda has been floundering and he has for the most part abandoned the economy as his top policy priority since his reelection. Instead Obama has been preoccupied with national tragedies, political scandals including the Benghazi terror attacks, The IRS targeting conservative groups, the Justice Department’s surveillance of journalists, and the National Security Agency’s data surveillance program leaked by former contractor and fugitive Edward Snowden.
Policy wise he has spent most of his time pressing for gun control and immigration reform legislation, unveiling a climate change program and implementing his healthcare law. The few initiatives Obama has introduced on the economy the past couple of months have led to nothing tangible, the result of a Republican House that does not agree with the President’s solutions.
There have been some improvements in the economy most notably with the stock markets, consumer confidence, the housing market and some job creation. However, just last week Detroit, Michigan declared bankruptcy, even after the stimulus infusion Obama gave to aid the auto industry in 2009, and the unemployment rate still remains high at 7.6 percent, proving there is still work to be done.
Obama knows his time as president is slowly running out and he needs to return and focus on the economy and job creation, they are still the most important issues facing Americans. Speaking at the OFA he mentioned the ticking clock; “I’ve got a little over 1,200 days left in office. I am going to spend every waking minute of every one of those days thinking about and then acting upon any good ideas out there (that) are going to help ordinary Americans succeed.” Coming into office amidst the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, Obama needs to secure a complete recovery of the economy to ensure his legacy after he leaves office in 2017.
Remarks by the President on the Economy at Georgetown University, April 14, 2009
Remarks by the President on the Economy in Osawatomie, Kansas, Dec. 6, 2011
Barack Obama’s Commencement Address at Knox College, June 4, 2005
You’re Going to Want to Watch This Speech, July 22, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & International politics.