Obama, with eyes on history and the election, touts economic record – USA TODAY
WASHINGTON âÂ With one eye on his historical legacy and another on this year’s election, President Obama on WednesdayÂ trumpeted his economic record, ripped Republican political ideas,Â and urged voters to electÂ a Democratic successor who will follow through on his policies.
“If what you really care about in this election is your pocketbookÂ âÂ if what youâre concerned about is who will look out for the interests of working people and grow the middle class …Â then the debate is not even close,” Obama told supporters duringÂ a campaign-style speech in Elkhart, Ind.
In returning toÂ ElkhartÂ âÂ a city he visited during his first year in office in 2009, in the midst of the recession-triggering financial crisis âÂ Obama stressed the decline of the unemployment rate and steady increases inÂ job growth during his two terms in office. HeÂ alsoÂ touted the administration’s initiatives ranging from the landmark health care law to new Wall Street regulations.
The shirt-sleeved Obama delivered his speech as Republican criticsÂ âÂ including presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump âÂ say the recovery is uneven at best, citing stagnant wages and trade deals they say have undercut manufacturing jobs in the United States.
“We are losing our jobs to everybody,” Trump told supporters in California last week. “We are going to bring back jobs like we haven’t seen in this country for many, many decades.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Obama has a “legacy of economic malaise,” and “Americans deserve more than a victory lap celebrating stagnant wages, lukewarm economic growth, (and) persistently high poverty rates.”
Democratic candidates HillaryÂ Clinton andÂ Bernie Sanders, while praising Obama’s administration, have also raised economic concerns, including increasedÂ college costs and income inequality. Both Democrats oppose the Obama-backed Asian trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
While not specificallyÂ mentioning Trump (or any other candidate) by name, Obama did say the Republicans picked their presidential nomineeÂ because ofÂ “economicÂ anxiety” that is fueling “an unusual election year.” He repeatedly denounced Trump’s proposals, saying at one point that the idea of deporting 11 million people who are in the country illegally is a “fantasy,” and that “we cannot put up walls around America.”
In another dig at Trump, Obama said “provocative” tweets are not good reasons to support any candidate.
Arguing that the politicalÂ parties haveÂ “two very different visions,” Obama said the Republicans’Â approach to the economy would “lower wages, eliminate worker protections, cut investments in things like education, weaken the safety net, kick people off health insurance, and let China write the rules for the global economy.”
The president also said that, for decades, Republicans have spreadÂ “myths” about the impact thatÂ immigration, welfare programs,Â trade policy and “big government” have hadÂ onÂ the economy andÂ middle class families. He denounced what he called the GOP’s “cult of small government.”
The Democratic agenda, Obama said, “wonât solve every problem”Â or “make everybody financially secure overnight,” but will “point us in the right direction.”
Back in 2009, the president visited theÂ Elkhart area before and after passage of the $840 billion stimulus bill, a package of infrastructure and education projects that Obama and aides call the Recovery Act.
The stimulus and other Obama administration actions, including the health care law, new Wall Street regulations, and the automobile industry bailout, helped stave off another Great Depression, the president and his aides say.Â It also sparked a recovery that is being felt in places like Elkhart.
The city that isÂ known for production of recreational vehicles saw its unemployment rate soar to 19.6% during the financial crisis; ObamaÂ notedÂ that it is now down to around 4%.Â Nationally, the jobless rate has fallen from 10% to 5% this past April.
Casting Elkhart as a symbol of America’s recovery, Obama also cited reductions in home foreclosures and increases in high school graduation rates, and argued that the economy throughout the country is improving despite Republican efforts to obstruct most of his plans.
“America’s economy is not just better than it was eight years ago, it is the strongest, most durable economy in the world,” Obama said.
With the election of his successor little more than five months away, Obama told a supportive crowd atÂ Concord Community High School in Elkhart thatÂ “my presidency hasn’t fixed everything,” and that “long-term trends” that stretch back decades areÂ holding down wages and increasing income inequality.
Increased globalization of the economy, automation, and other technological changesÂ are leaving many American workers behind, Obama said,Â and he advocated training programs for 21st CenturyÂ jobs.
Some Elkhart residents are grateful for the president’s attention, but remained concerned that their city âÂ billed as “the RV Capital of the World” âÂ remains too dependent on the recreational vehicle industry.
Mark Landis, an Elkhart resident and a senior supervisor for Siemens Healthineers USA, told the Indianapolis Star that “I can’t say I believe he’s truly responsible for the recovery,” but Obama’s visits have been helpful:Â “The exposure of Elkhart County to the world because of his visits really gave Elkhart an opportunity to tell the world, ‘We’re not dead. We’re open for business. Come see us.'”