By Charles Babington
ABOVE PHOTO: President Obama comments about not letting the Republicans drive the car but allowing them into the back seat as Vice President Joe Biden looks on .
Photos by William T. Wade jr.
President Barack Obama tried to recapture some of the big-stage excitement of his 2008 campaign Sunday, imploring voters not to reward what he called Republican cynicism and incompetence by sitting out the November 2 elections.
The president delivered one of his most stinging indictments yet of the GOP record to several thousand people under blue skies in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighbourhood.
Obama acknowledged that many Americans are frustrated, especially about the economy. He said Republicans have decided “to ride that frustration and anger” without providing solutions. And he said congressional Republicans deliberately opposed his administration and the Democratic majority on almost every issue, in hopes that stalemate would depress Democratic turnout in the midterm elections.
“If I said there were fish in the sea, they said ‘no,'” the president said. “They figured ‘if Obama fails, then we win.'”
Reminding voters of their enthusiasm for his presidential campaign, the president said, “we need you as fired up as you were in 2008”.
Obama’s 28-minute speech was the second of four planned large rallies designed to spur Democratic turnout to dampen what many expect to be big GOP victories in House, Senate and gubernatorial elections.
Sunday’s event, before a mostly black audience, was somewhat smaller and less ebullient than last week’s rally on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison. Still, organisers said more than 18,000 people turned out, including those in overflow lots who listened on speakers.
Obama repeated many of his familiar themes, such as the claim that Republicans drove the economy into a ditch before he took office, and then they refused to help Democrats extract it.
But he dwelt on the topic at some length. “The Republicans messed up so bad, left such a big mess,” he said. “The hole we’re climbing out of is so deep.”
Obama said about 8 million Americans had lost jobs before his economic policies could start taking effect. “It’s going to take us a while to get out of this hole,” he said.
Republicans want to increase the debt to continue a major tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, he said, yet they “lecture us on fiscal responsibility.”
Vice President Joe Biden, who was born in Scranton, Pa., introduced Obama with a three-minute speech. Democratic Senate nominee Joe Sestak also spoke briefly.
It’s unclear whether the president can stir up enough Democratic passion to avert a GOP takeover of the House, which would require a net pickup of 40 seats.
Democrats confront not only listless voters who feel this year’s elections are not nearly as exciting and meaningful as his record-breaking election was. They also must cope with liberals who feel Obama and congressional Democrats have let them down.
John Duda, 46, a Veterans Administration physician who attended Sunday’s rally, said he thinks liberals are somewhat disenchanted that Obama had to make compromises on major issues such as energy and health care. Duda said he saw no reason for dropping a government-run health insurance option that would compete with private insurers.
“We’re probably better off,” Duda said, “but there wasn’t this sea-change” that people had expected from an Obama presidency.