‘What is it about working men and women they find so offensive?’

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Listening to President Obama’s speech this morning at the United Auto Workers Annual Conference, Benjy Sarlin noted Obama was delivering a “barnburner,” adding, “This is old school Obama.”

After having seen it, that assessment seems more than fair. The president is eager, especially today (see Michigan, Republican primary in) to remind the country that at a time of crisis, when the American automotive industry was on the brink of collapse, the right was wrong and the left was right.

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After walking through the circumstances that led to the rescue policy – and noting for the record that there was no private capital lying around, ready to bolster the Big Three – Obama reminded folks that there were some who wanted to “do nothing,” and “allow these companies to fail.” He added, “Some even said we should ‘let Detroit go bankrupt.’”

The president didn’t mention any names, but he didn’t have to.

At that point, Obama lowered the boom.

“I’ve got to admit, it’s been funny to watch some of these folks completely rewrite history now that you’re back on your feet. The same folks who said if we went forward with our plan to rescue Detroit, ‘you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.’ Now they’re saying, ‘We were right all along.’

“Or you’ve got folks saying, ‘The real problem was with the workers. They all made out like bandits. Saving the American auto industry was just about paying back unions.’ Really? Even by the standards of this town, that’s a load of you-know-what. About 700,000 retirees saw a reduction in the health care benefits they had earned. Many of you saw hours reduced, or pay and wages scaled back. You gave up some of your rights as workers. Promises were made to you over the years that you gave up for the sake and survival of this industry, its workers, their families…. I keep hearing these folks talk about ‘values’ all the time. You want to talk about values? Hard work – that’s a value. Looking out for one another – that’s a value. The idea that we’re all in it together – that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper – that’s a value.

“But they’re still talking about you as if you’re some greedy special interest that needs to be beaten down. Since when are hardworking men and women special interests? Since when is the idea that we look out for one another a bad thing? I remember my old friend Ted Kennedy; he used to say, ‘What is it about working men and women they find so offensive?’”

It was as stark a reminder as any that the success of the president’s policy will be at the heart of his re-election effort. Indeed, as Greg Sargent noted earlier, “Obama used the auto-bailout argument as a jumping off point for his larger case: That Democrats and Republicans have fundamental ideological differences over government’s role in stepping in and protecting working people and ordinary Americans against the depredations and excesses of unfettered free market capitalism, and that this all flows from a difference over moral values and priorities.”

If that’s not a good debate to serve at the heart of a national clash between the parties, I don’t know what is.

'What is it about working men and women they find so offensive?'

Updated