Commentary: Did Obama find his campaign groove in Osawatomie?

The Kansas City StarDecember 16, 2011 

Almost everyone agreed that President Barack Obama’s speech last Tuesday in Osawatomie, Kan., was — at six minutes short of a full hour — too long.

To call it too “professorial” would be accurate as well. It lacked the rip-roaring, stand-on-your-feet rhetoric that characterized Obama 2008.

“Some of the things he was talking about I didn’t understand,” said Alaina Johnson, a sophomore at Osawatomie High who still seemed dazed an hour later.

In 2008, no one — young or old —who saw Obama in full flight left dazed.

The speech had one other flaw — a few suspect claims. Case in point: “Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1 percent,” Obama said. “… That is the height of unfairness.”

That line drew applause. But The Washington Post pointed out that the White House couldn’t back it up.

In fact, the only evidence that Obama aides could conjure up was “a clip of a conversation on Bloomberg TV.”

Shortcomings aside, the president’s speech in a town notable mostly for its ties to John Brown marked a turning point in the president’s fortunes. Finally, the president appears to have found a way forward, a set of themes destined to propel his 2012 re-election campaign and, perhaps, carry him to a second term.

And it comes at a time when one Republican that Obama can probably defeat, Newt Gingrich, is riding high.

“For most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded,” Obama intoned. “Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success.

“Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and investments than ever before. But everyone else struggled.”

There it is for a president who has struggled to connect with the average Joe and Josephine. It’s a big idea (borrowed from Occupiers) from a man who championed big ideas four years ago.

This is the country’s soft spot, the place where so many Americans are feeling pain. You can now anticipate that this is what Obama will be addressing in the months to come.

The president is finally speaking your language.

After all, this is a president who dare not mention his signature achievement — health care reform.

The killing of Osama bin Laden also seems to have a short shelf life in the polls. And Obama can claim all he wants that the stimulus rescued the American economy. But voters remain in a deep-discount mood.

This president needed an entirely new theme, and he found it in, of all places, Osawatomie.

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