In addition to criticizing Romney by name, Obama called the Republican plan "thinly veiled social Darwinism" that is "so far to the right it makes the Contract with America look like the New Deal." Then, in a question and answer session that followed the speech, the President argued that the Republican Party had become so conservative that even Ronald Reagan "could not get through a Republican primary today."
Most commentators feel that Obama took the gloves off with his remarks. (See TPM's description of the speech, for instance). When judged against the President's usual rhetoric, they're right.
I see it differently. As much as I love allusions to social Darwinism, the New Deal, the Contract with America, and the Republican Party's move to the right, the vast majority of voters have no idea what these are. People want to hear about unemployment, gas prices, health care and other pressing concerns. They don't know - and they don't care - about inside the beltway topics like the ones the President highlighted.
Of course, the audience for the speech (a group of newspaper editors) was very much an inside the beltway crowd. But when I think about the President's rhetoric as a whole, it seems that the overwhelming truth of what he has to say is weighing him down.
The same is true for many of us on the left. We have the facts on our side, and the opposition is so wrong that it is hard to know where to start. The danger is that we focus on enumerating and repeating those facts and lose sight of the often irrational ways in which most people make political decisions.
This was genius of Bill Clinton's response to the national debt question in the 1992 debate, as I noted in my previous post. Clinton didn't worry about giving the right answer. He spoke directly to the questioner's immediate economic needs and concerns. George H.W. Bush, by contrast, gave a very Obamaesque answer - correct on its merits but too complicated for the average voter to understand. Let's hope the President figures out a way to craft a more direct economic message before it's too late.