Sources close to President Obama have made no secret of his eagerness to hit the campaign trail, ready to work aggressively to ensure he’s succeeded by a Democrat. One White House source said this week the president expects to “explode onto the scene,” recognizing his unique ability to get his party “fired up.”
For the most part, we’ve expected to see the Campaigner in Chief emerge after the Democratic nominating process wraps up next week, but watching Obama in Elkhardt, Indiana, yesterday, it appears the president doesn’t want to wait that long. NBC’s Perry Bacon Jr. reported:
In a visit to an Indiana town that has seen a huge drop in unemployment during his administration, President Obama aggressively defended his policies and blasted Donald Trump, calling one of the real estate mogul’s proposals “crazy.” […]And Obama, while not using Trump’s name, repeatedly referred to the “Republican nominee” and specifically denounced his proposals. Obama called deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants a “fantasy,” and dismissed the mogul’s view that large numbers of native-born Americans are losing their jobs to immigrants.
The president had plenty to say – he spoke for nearly a full hour – in part because of the location. Elkhart has long held a special significance for Obama, and the fact that the city’s unemployment rate has gone from about 20% to 4% since he took office makes the Indiana community a model for the president’s economic successes.
It’s a record Obama is clearly eager to tout during the campaign season, even while condemning the Republican vision. (Yesterday’s speech did not reference Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders by name.)
But as it turns out, the president’s remarks in Indiana also made a little news. These comments, in particular, pointed to a White House position we hadn’t heard before:
“We can’t afford to weaken Social Security; we should be strengthening Social Security.,” Obama said. “And not only do we need to strengthen its long-term health, it’s time we finally made Social Security more generous, and increased its benefits so that today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they’ve earned. And we could start paying for it by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little bit more. They can afford it. I can afford it.”
In progressive circles, expanding Social Security has become an important cause – it’s a policy endorsed by both Clinton and Sanders, as well as prominent Democratic lawmakers like Ohio’s Sherrod Brown and Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren – though the White House has held back from endorsing the goal. Yesterday, that changed, suggesting this popular idea is slated to be a key component of the 2016 message for Democrats.
It’s also part of an unexpected evolution. Keep in mind, in the president’s first term, after the massive Republican gains in the 2010 midterms, Obama was willing to accept a conservative shift in how Social Security benefits were calculated (a policy known as “chained CPI”) as part of a debt-reduction compromise with GOP lawmakers. The far-right eventually killed the agreement – House Republicans weren’t willing to accept any concessions at all – only to have Mitt Romney run on a platform of more severe Social Security cuts.
Four years later, the winds are blowing in the opposite direction. Obama, Clinton, and Sanders are now in agreement that Social Security should be expanded, while Trump says he supports Social Security cuts “from a moral standpoint,” but he thinks it’s political suicide and won’t include the idea in his platform.
On this issue, as yesterday helped make clear, the left is winning.