Obama’s Closing Argument: The Winning Message

Terrance Heath

When it comes to politics, it ain’t over ’til its’ over. And even then it may not be over. With the presidential election just days away, the contest remains close enough to ensure some jangled nerves and nail-biting among Republicans and Democrats. Still, the latest news and numbers should give President President Barack Obama a boost as he delivers his closing argument to voters. 

Should Obama emerge the victor when the dust settles after Tuesday, his closing argument will become the winning message. And voters convinced to reward Obama with a second term on the strength of that message will — and should — expect him to live up to its vision and promise. 

Yes, it looks good for President Obama. At least one Republican Senate Candidate is attempting to hitch a ride on the president’s coattails. Meanwhile, conservatives are preemptively blaming hurricane Sandy and “rigged” voting machines, Even Mitt Romney has publicly admitted that ‘it’s possible’ Obama could winRomney’s campaign advisors are already sounding grim, and Romney supporters are turning to prayer. 

Two days out from the election, major polls make Obama the favorite to win the election — possibly losing only 2.5 points from his 2008 national vote share. The well-respected Pew Poll puts Obama back in the the lead. Children are the future and Obama’s got their vote, making him the clear winner in a mock elections and polls among future voters. NYT poll guru Nate Silver now gives Obama an 85% chance of winning

Still, polls don’t win elections. That still takes getting more people the polling place than the other side does. Message plays a big part in that. As president Obama makes his closing argument, the message he’s employing to make his case sounds progressive in places.

We’re In This Together vs “The Same Old Ideas That Don’t Work”

If there’s one underlying theme in Obama’s closing argument it’s what Jared Bernstein summed up as “We’re In This Together,” compared to conservatism’s “You’re On Your Own” ethos. Jumping back into the campaign after returning to the White House to lead the response to hurricane Sandy, Obama returned to the “We’re In This Together” theme at a campaign stop in Milwaukee, Wis. 

Obama said “for the past several days all of us have been focused what’s going on on the east coast,” and added that he spoke with officials there this morning as the east recovers from Superstorm Sandy.

“It’s a reminder of how fragile things are sometimes. As a nation we have to mourn those who have been lost, thoughts and prayers go out to the families, we’re going to stay with those whose lives have been upended,” he said.

Obama said heroes and neighbors “who have helped those cope with tragedy” have inspired the country, along with leaders of both parties working together.

“We rise and fall as one nation,” he said.

“We’re all gathered here today because we’ve got more to do,” Obama said.

“We know what works,” Obama said of the policies he has championed during four years.

He said his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, is repacking “the same old ideas that don’t work.”

 It’s a return to the theme Obama has employed in some of his best speeches, from his star-making speech at the 2004 Democratic convention to his health care reform to a joint session of congress, and his Tucson memorial speech; and it infuses some of the most important parts of his closing argument. 

In the final days of a contest against an opponent whose party and policies offer little more than “the same ideas that don’t work,” Obama’s closing argument touches on issues near and dear to progressives’ hearts. 

Deficits, Death and Taxes

In Milwaukee, Obama spoke of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — two of the biggest contributors to our current deficit.

“Change is turning the page on a decade of war,” Obama said, adding that it was time to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

“If we’re serious about the deficit we also have to ask the wealthiest Americans to go back to the tax rates when Bill Clinton was in office,” he said.

When the country deals with the deficit, he said, “something has to give.”

If Obama wins a second term, the light at the end of the tunnel that is this election will be a deficit-fueled, fast-moving train called the “Fiscal Cliff” — speeding the country towards European-style austerity. In his CNN editorial, Obama elaborated on his approach to the deficit.

Change is an America where we reduce our deficit by cutting spending where we can, and asking the wealthiest Americans to go back to the income tax rates they paid when Bill Clinton was president. I’ve worked with Republicans to cut a trillion dollars of spending, and I’ll do more. I’ll work with anyone of any party to move this country forward. But I won’t agree to eliminate health insurance for millions of poor, elderly, or disabled on Medicaid, or turn Medicare into a voucher just to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut.

The voters who reward Obama with a second term based on points in his closing argument will expect him to remember that if “something has to give,” it should be the the lower-than-ever tax rates of the wealthiest Americans, and not Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. After all, we know that tax cuts don’t stimulate economic growth, and don’t create jobs, and cost revenue because they don’t pay for themselves.

Plus, a huge majority of Americans support “asking the wealthiest Americans to go back to the tax rates when Bill Clinton was in office.” Likewise, most Americans oppose making cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to reduce the deficit.

Standing Athwart The Status Quo

William Buckley once defined conservatism as “Standing athwart history, yelling ‘Stop.'” As the campaign approaches the finished line, President Obama, in Boulder, Co., portrayed his opposition as standing athwart the status quo, stopping every attempt to repair the economy and speed its recovery.

And he appealed for more time to overcome the “protectors of the status quo” that have stood in his way.

“Every time we’ve tried to make change, they’ve fought back with everything they’ve got,” he told voters in Wisconsin. “Their strategy from the start was to engineer pure gridlock in Congress.”

It’s likely that Obama will encounter just as much opposition in his second term as in his first, despite his earlier optimism that “the fever may break” and “common sense” take hold of the GOP after his re-election. Democrats are slated to keep the Senate, but Republicans are still likely to keep their majority in the House.

“Sometimes You Have To Pick A Fight”

If President Obama is faced with the same kind of obstruction in his second term that he dealt with so often in his third, perhaps he should remember something the late Sen. Paul Wellstone once said: “Sometimes you have to pick a fight to win one.” In Ohio, Obama hinted that he might show more fighting spirit in a second term

At the second of his three Ohio rallies Friday, Obama delivered a fervent version of his own closing argument to a similar number of supporters at a high school gym in Springfield. He pledged to work with Republicans in Congress in a second term but acknowledged there would still be some “struggles and fights.”

“I’m a very nice guy, people will tell you. I really am,” Obama said. But if “the price of peace in Washington” means cutting deals to slash student financial aid or give health-insurance companies more power, “I’m not going to make that deal,” he added. “That’s a price I’m not willing to pay.”

Turning up the volume as the crowd responded, Obama insisted: “That’s not bipartisanship. That’s not change. That’s surrender to the status quo.” And he pledged, “I am a long ways away from giving up on this fight. I got a lot of fight left in me. I don’t get tired. I don’t grow weary. I hope you aren’t tired either, Ohio.”

President Obama’s should spend less time seeking compromise with a party that’s proven it’s willing to risk the plunging the nation into economic ruin just to avoid giving him a “win.” Instead, the president should pick a fight and then “take it to the streets,” making his case directly to the American people, and let them put the pressure on conservatives to account for their behavior.  

The Guardian’s Gary Younge writes that a Romney win would reward Republicans for bad behavior. And Obama win would reward the president for both his record thus far and a closing argument that convinces voters to give him a second term — and his closing argument will become more than just a winning message. It will set the standard voters will expect President Obama to live up to. 

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