President Obama this week kicked off his reelection campaign in earnest, returning to his hometown of Chicago where he outlined his three Ps – post-partisan, pragmatic and promise-keeper -- themes that he will use over and over again as he heads to the 2012 vote.
It is still early in the presidential campaign and it remains unclear who among the baker’s dozen of GOP hopefuls will succeed in becoming Obama’s principal opponent. But, while Obama’s tactical targets will likely change over the months, his strategic vision and rhetoric will probably remain much the same as he seeks to place himself somewhere on the political spectrum that tries to energize Democratic Party aspirations while also appealing to independents.
The three Ps set the political boundaries of Obama’s playing field. For Obama, post-partisan means rising above the current political fray while hoping to empower people to fight for what he sees as traditional values of the American dream. Pragmatism is recognizing that changed financial realities means that goals must also shift, but it is also imperative to be a promise-keeper whether to pay for programs such as healthcare for older Americans or to educate the young.
Obama touched on all three themes in three appearances in Chicago. He explained his vision of people power and why he moved his reelection campaign headquarters away from Washington this way to the about 2,300 supporters at the Navy Pier.
“This is the first time in modern history that a sitting president has based their reelection campaign outside of Washington,” the president said to applause. “I decided I don't want our campaign to be just hearing all the pundits and the power brokers. I want our campaign to be here because you guys are the ones who got me started.
“One of the things that I’ve seen again and again over the last couple of years is the conversation in Washington is very different from the conversation around kitchen tables and office coolers,” Obama continued. “I wanted to make sure that our campaign was rooted in your hopes and rooted in your dreams. I want to make sure we’re putting the campaign in your hands -- in the same hands, the same organizers, the same volunteers who proved the last time that together ordinary folks can do extraordinary things. That’s what this campaign is about.”
Americans are a practical people who try to balance different ideas at the same time, Obama argued.
“One, that we’re all individuals with -- endowed with certain inalienable rights and liberties; and we’re self-reliant; and we’re entrepreneurs; and we don't want folks telling us what to do. That’s part of -- being an individual is so important to us,” the president said. “But we also have this idea that we’re all in this together; that we look out for one another; that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper,” Obama said, “and that I’m looking after them, not out of charity, but because my life is richer, my life is better when the people around me are happy and the people around me have a shot at the American dream … We’ve got to reclaim the American dream for all Americans.”
But pragmatism also means recognizing that times remain economically perilous in the second decade of the 21st century. All social and domestic policies and improvements depend on money.
“We can only do all this, by the way, if we get our fiscal issues under control,” Obama reminded the crowd. “When I was running for president, I talked about a new era of responsibility in this country. And part of that means restoring some common sense about our federal finances, restoring fiscal discipline in Washington, living within our means… We won’t be able to do all those good things if we don't get our fiscal house in order.”
Still, past promises made must be kept, Obama insisted, sounding a note that he hopes will separate him from the GOP, which is seeking major changes in Medicare and Medicaid, the health programs for the elderly and poor, respectively. The battle over entitlement spending, including Social Security, will be the framework for the rest of the year and well into the election itself.
“We’re not going to sacrifice our fundamental commitment that we made to one another through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, the safety net for our people,’ Obama insisted. “That's our vision for America. We’ve got a big vision for America, of a compassionate America and a caring America and an ambitious America, not a small America.”