President Obama arrives at O' Hare International Airport in Chicago,… (Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated…)
Reporting from Washington and Chicago — Without ever mentioning Mitt Romney by name, President Obama on Wednesday introduced a theme he’s certain to use often against the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination: that he helped send American jobs overseas during his corporate career.
In a White House seminar on creating domestic jobs, Obama praised corporate executives who have expanded their workforces in the United States. The president also proposed tax code changes to encourage such decisions.
“That’s exactly the kind of commitment to country that we need, especially right now,” Obama said. “We’re in a make-or-break moment for the middle class and those aspiring to get in the middle class here in the United States.”
Obama’s “In-sourcing American Jobs Forum” marked the continuation of a recent theme by the president’s campaign to portray Republicans -- Romney in particular -- as being the party that protects big business and Wall Street at the expense of American workers.
Thanking the leaders of firms as varied as Ford, DuPont, Intel, Master Lock and Chesapeake Bay Candle for promises to shift jobs back to the states, Obama specifically cited the need to help the “middle class” seven times in his 15-minute address as he continued to push for a full-year extension of the payroll tax cut. With the national unemployment rate at 8.5%, Obama emphasized the responsibility of companies to hire American workers.
“I don’t want America to be a nation that’s primarily known for financial speculation and racking up debt buying stuff from other nations,” Obama said. He also said there was a “moral case” and “responsibility” that businesses have “to the country that made all this incredible wealth and opportunity possible.”
“That’s a responsibility that we all have to live up to, whether we’re in the private sector or the public sector, whether we’re in Washington or we’re on Wall Street. Because the more Americans who succeed, the more America succeeds,” he said.
The event showed the president employing a new strategy for airing his campaign message: Obama doesn’t have to directly criticize Romney’s role at Bain & Co., the consulting firm Romney worked for before joining its private equity spinoff, because the other GOP candidates are doing it for him.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been critical of Romney’s work at Bain, saying the firm’s approach in downsizing companies was to “basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry this week referred to venture capitalists as “vultures” who wait for companies to get sick and then feed on them.
Speaking the morning after his New Hampshire victory on CNN’s "Starting Point," before traveling to South Carolina for the next primary on the campaign calendar, Romney said he understood that “President Obama is going to try and put free enterprise on trial.” He accused Perry and Gingrich of serving as “witnesses for the prosecution.”
“I really think [Republicans are] best off focusing on the failures of this president, and in my case I want to demonstrate that I have the capacity to make America once again a great place for opportunity, for rising incomes, for job growth. I think that's what people want to hear. They want to understand how we're going lead the country,” Romney said.
Obama shifted into fundraising mode later in the day as he traveled to Chicago for three events that aides estimated would raise at least $1.85 million for Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Obama hadn’t been back to his hometown since the summer, and aides said he was looking forward to seeing longtime friends and supporters before diving into the presentation of his legislative agenda and budget in two weeks.
The president’s motorcade drove past the lakefront park where he delivered his victory speech in 2008 and then stopped at his campaign headquarters on Michigan Avenue, his first visit to since it opened last year.
After an event with young voters at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Obama was scheduled to attend a dinner at the home of presidential campaign bundler and prominent Democratic donor Fred Eychaner, who heads Newsweb Corp. Obama was to conclude the evening at a Hyde Park reception at the home of Stuart Taylor, who heads Taylor Group, an investment firm.
Rick Pearson is a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune.