‘We play for first place’

‘WE PLAY FOR FIRST PLACE’…. It wasn’t one of the four scheduled “Moving America Forward” rallies the White House has scheduled, but President Obama spoke at a Gen44 event last night in D.C., as part of a DNC effort to target Democrats under the age of 40. Andrew Sullivan saw the speech and said it “knocked my socks off,” so I checked it out.

I’ve been watching the president’s rhetoric quite a bit, especially over the last few weeks, and last night’s speech wasn’t too much different from the one he delivered at the Madison rally earlier this week. There was one part that was new, though.

Obama focused a fair amount of attention on the House GOP’s “Pledge to America” — is it me, or did the Republicans stop talking about this all of a sudden? — which the president noted was “actually written with the help of a former lobbyist for AIG and Exxon-Mobil, so that gives you a sense of how much change they intend.”

He explained that the GOP’s main economic policy is $700 billion for tax cuts for the rich. When pressed on how to pay for it, Republicans talk up a $100 billion cut in discretionary spending, which as I’ve tried to explain, would generate drastic and painful reductions that undermine the middle class.

But Obama put this in practical terms: “When you ask them, ‘Well, where are you going to get this $700 billion? Do you have some magic beans somewhere? I mean, how is this going to come about?’ They don’t have an answer.

“Now, they will say, ‘Well, we’re going to cut spending. ‘ So you say, ‘Okay, what are you going to cut?’ And then what they say is, ‘Well, we’ll cut education by 20 percent. We’ll eliminate 200,000 children from early childhood education programs like Head Start. We’ll cut financial aid for 8 million college students.

“At a time when the education of our country’s citizens is probably the best predictor of that country’s economic success, they think it’s more important to give another tax break to folks who are on the Forbes 400 list.

“Now, I want to ask my Republican friends: Do you think China is cutting back on education? Do you think South Korea is making it harder for its citizens to get a college education? These countries aren’t playing for second place. And guess what. The United States doesn’t play for second place. We play for first place.”

The more the White House can fit speeches like these into the president’s schedule, the better off Democrats will be on Nov. 2.