President Obama recognized Labor Day by speaking at an AFL-CIO event at a GM plant in Detroit, and the White House billed the event as helping set the stage for Thursday’s Joint Session speech. If that’s true, there’s cause for some optimism about what we’ll hear in the address.

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Obama, appearing rather fired up, spoke at some length about the importance of the labor movement and the role or unions in helping “lay these cornerstones of the American middle class.” He also took some time to highlight his administration’s successes in strengthening the middle class.

But most notably, the president offered “just a little bit” on the “new way forward” he’ll present to Congress this week. Not surprisingly, details were scarce, but Obama specifically referenced infrastructure investments and the payroll tax cut.

“I’m going to propose ways to put America back to work that both parties can agree to, because I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems. And given the urgency of this moment, given the hardship that many people are facing, folks have got to get together.

“But we’re not going to wait for them. We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party. We’ll give them a plan, and then we’ll say, ‘Do you want to create jobs? Then put our construction workers back to work rebuilding America. Do you want to help our companies succeed? Open up new markets for them to sell their products. You say you’re the party of tax cuts? Well then, prove you’ll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle-class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans. Show us what you got.’

“The time for Washington games is over. The time for action is now. No more manufactured crises. No more games. Now is not the time for the people you sent to Washington to worry about their jobs; now is the time for them to worry about your jobs.”

This is entirely consistent with the strategy that’s been coming together in recent weeks: Obama doesn’t intend to ask Congress to focus on job creation; he intends to challenge Congress to focus on job creation. If Republicans refuse — as appears all but certain — the point is to start sharing the blame. Obama presented a credible plan with popular ideas, the argument will go, but the GOP didn’t care. “I tried to make the economy better,” the president will argue, “but Republicans refused to work with me.”

The message to voters, then, becomes, “Want someone to blame? Start with the folks who sat on their hands while the economy deteriorated.”

And when it comes to tone and a fighting spirit, if Thursday’s speech sounds anything like Monday’s speech, the president’s agenda will at least get off on the right foot.

It’s also worth noting that Obama has at least one other event scheduled this week, taking his jobs agenda to Richmond, Virginia, on Friday. That’s a good move — if the White House is going to change the politics at all, one speech to Congress is going to have to be part of a larger offensive.

Paul Krugman added yesterday about the president, “[W]hat he mostly needs to do now is to change the conversation — to get Washington talking again about jobs and how the government can help create them.”

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.