Rallying a pivotal part of his base, President Barack Obama pleaded with labor leaders Wednesday to energize their members about the upcoming election, depicting a choice between those who fight for the middle class and those who are "not lifting a finger to help."
Obama's political speech to the AFL-CIO's governing executive council underscored the stakes of the November midterm elections, in which his Democratic Party is trying to hang onto its majorities in the House and Senate. Democratic loss of control in either chamber, or even a major erosion of seats, could deeply hamper Obama's agenda.
The president tailored his message to the interests of the union leaders, citing such priorities as fair pay, enforcement of trade laws, tax breaks for the middle class and safe working environments. And he took a shot at the two-term Republican administration of his predecessor, George W. Bush, saying that for eight years the government held "a profound animosity towards the notion of unions."
Speaking of Republicans and repeating the White House's key talking point of the campaign, Obama said: "They want to go backwards; we want to move America forward. And that's what the choice is going to be in this upcoming election. And all your members need to understand it."
Obama also described the plight of the unemployed in personal, labor-friendly terms.
"That pain goes beyond just the financial pain. It goes to who they are as a person," Obama said. "It hits them in their gut. Having a conversation with your spouse and saying, you know, `maybe we can't afford this house anymore, maybe we're going to have to give up on being able to save for our kid's college education.' That goes directly to people's identities, to their cores."
Millions of people remain out of work in a deep, enduring recession. The toll has soured the nation's mood and Obama's public approval along with it. Republicans, out of power in the legislative and executive branches, are eager to seize on the same voter sentiment for change that helped propel Obama to office.
The president, however, is casting the prospect of Republican leadership as a return to failure. And he is devoting larger chunks of his time to do so.
On Wednesday he reprised his tale of Republicans who drove the economy into a ditch and warned them that voters won't allow them to do it again.
As for his own efforts on the economy, Obama said: "I'm here to tell you, we are not giving up and we are not giving in."