Obama's Populist Message: What the Country Can Do for You

(CBS)
John Kennedy once said: "Do not ask what your country can do for you..." OK, stop there.

After a deep recession that has resulted in double-digit unemployment, many polls show that people think the Obama administration has done too much for Wall Street banks and auto companies and not enough for the middle class. So when looking at this week's State of the Union and Obama's newly polished populist message, is it OK to ask what can the country do for you?

Today, for instance, the White House is unveiling a new set of policy priorities aimed squarely at the middle class. These ideas came out of the year-long "Middle Class Task Force" effort that was led by Vice President Joe Biden.

The initiatives include: nearly doubling the child and dependent care tax credit for middle class families; limiting student federal loan payments to help struggling students; creating a system of automatic workplace IRAs; expanding tax credits to match retirement savings; and expanding support for families who care for elderly relatives.

Obama Unveils New Breaks for Middle Class

As President Obama said in a statement today, "We are fighting every single day to put Americans back to work, create good jobs and strengthen our economy for the long-term."

Vice President Biden put it this way: "Every day, middle class families go to work and help make this country great. For a year, our Task Force has been hearing that they are struggling with soaring coasts and squeezed family budgets. These common sense initiatives will help these families cope with these challenges."

A White House official tells CBS News that today's proposals preview some of the key themes of Wednesday's State of the Union: creating good jobs, addressing the deficit, changing the way Washington works and fighting for middle class families.

The "fight" theme was evident in a speech President Obama gave on Friday in Ohio, his second stop on a tour aimed at helping the middle class families in hard hit areas.

Mr. Obama had the crowd fired up at this point in his address: "So long as I have some breath in me, so long as I have the privilege of serving as your President, I will not stop fighting for you. I will take my lumps, but I won't stop fighting to bring back jobs here. I won't stop fighting for an economy where hard work is rewarded. I won't stop fighting to make sure there's accountability in our financial system. I'm not going to stop fighting until we have jobs for everybody."

So expect to hear more of this language this week from the White House and in the weeks and months to come. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in today's New York Times, "Mr. Obama hopes to use his speech on Wednesday to demonstrate that he understands the economic pain of ordinary Americans."

And just to clarify the word of the week: The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines "Populist" as:

1 : a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people;
2 : a believer in the rights, wisdom or virtues of the common people

Robert Hendin is a CBS News White House producer. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.
  • Robert Hendin On Twitter»

    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.

Comments