In a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee that sounded more like a campaign stump speech than a holiday greeting, President Barack Obama delivered a message that was the political equivalent of "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."
Kicking off what has traditionally been considered the official fall campaign season, Obama said: "Some powerful interests who had been dominating the agenda in Washington for a very long time, they're not always happy with me. They talk about me like a dog. That's not in my prepared remarks, but it's true."
From a stage at the Summerfest grounds in Maier Festival Park, Obama spoke animatedly as he described the GOP as the party of "No We Can't," contrasting that with his campaign slogan from 2008, "Yes We Can." He said Republicans disagree with everything he says. "If I said the sky is blue, they'd say no," Obama said. "If I said fish live in the sea, they'd say no."
In the midst of the speech, the president said he was proposing a $50-billion program to jump-start job creation and to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure of the United States. The plan includes the rebuilding of 150,000 miles of road, 4,000 miles of railroad tracks and 150 miles of runways.
"I want America to have the best infrastructure in the world," Obama said. "We used to have the best infrastructure. We can make it happen again."
He also announced he was proposing an "infrastructure bank," which a statement from the White House said "would leverage private and state and local capital to invest in projects that are most critical to our economic progress."
"This marks an important departure from the federal government's traditional way of spending on infrastructure through earmarks and formula-based grants that are allocated more by geography and politics than demonstrated value," the statement said. "Instead, the bank will base its investment decisions on clear analytical measures of performance, competing projects against each other to determine which will produce the greatest return for American taxpayers."
The House Republican leader, John Boehner of Ohio, lost no time in responding to the infrastructure proposal. He released a statement saying: "As the American people, facing near double-digit unemployment, mark Labor Day by asking, where are the jobs, the White House has chosen to double-down on more of the same failed 'stimulus' spending. Eighteen months ago, the administration promised that if we passed their trillion-dollar 'stimulus' it would create jobs 'immediately' and keep unemployment below 8 percent. Instead, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and unemployment is approaching 10 percent. If we've learned anything from the past 18 months, it's that we can't spend our way to prosperity."
The president directed some criticism directly at Boehner without mentioning his name. Calling the House minority leader "the man who thinks he will be speaker," Obama said that when a bill was passed this summer to help states save the jobs of teachers, nurses and firefighters, Boehner dismissed the effort as being for "'government jobs' that weren't worth saving." Obama added: "I think those jobs are worth saving."
The bulk of Obama's speech was focused on taking on Republicans and their criticism of the Obama administration. He mentioned Wall Street reform, health care reform and the overhaul of the student loan programs, adding this about the GOP: "They're not happy with it, but it was the right thing to do."
And he vowed that he would fight efforts to privatize Social Security. "To those who may still run for office planning to privatize Social Security," he said, "let me be clear: It will not happen on my watch. Not while I'm president of the United States of America."
Obama described the U.S. economy as a car that had been driven into a ditch by Republicans during the administration of George W. Bush. The president said working people had struggled to pull the car out of the ditch, only to have the Republicans ask for the keys back. "I don't want to give them the keys back," Obama said. "They don't know how to drive."