Democratic leaders have repeatedly tried to cast “tea party” candidates as extremists, but President Obama on Monday said the movement exhibits some of the “healthy skepticism about government” that led to the American Revolution and that is now part of “our DNA.”
“I think there’s also a noble tradition in the Republican and Democratic parties of saying that government should - should pay its way; that it shouldn’t get so big that we’re leaving debt to the next generation,” Mr. Obama told a crowd gathered at the Newseum in Washington for a televised “Investing In America” town-hall meeting. “All those things, I think, are healthy.”
But Mr. Obama qualified his remarks by saying that some conservative activists are “misidentifying … the culprits” who are responsible for the economic crises, high unemployment woes and increasing national debt. He said they should look at the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that “weren’t paid for,” and he noted that “we’re all demanding services, but our taxes have actually substantially gone down.”
“The challenge, I think, for the tea party movement is to identify specifically, what would you do?” he said. “It’s not enough just to say, ‘Get control of spending,’ ” Mr. Obama said. “I think it’s important for you to say, you know, ‘I’m willing to cut veterans’ benefits,’ or, ‘I’m willing to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits,’ or, ‘I’m willing to see these taxes go up.’ “
The remarks came on the heels of a report in the New York Times that said the president’s political advisers were considering national advertisements suggesting that the Republican Party had been all but taken over by tea party “extremists.”
“The strategists see openings to exploit after a string of Tea Party successes split Republicans in a number of states, culminating last week with developments that scrambled Senate races in Delaware and Alaska,” the report said.
On Monday, an unnamed White House official told Politico the story was “100 percent inaccurate.”
Whatever the case, what is clear is that with the Nov. 2 election fast approaching and polls suggesting the GOP is poised for big gains and possibly takeover the House and perhaps the Senate, Democrats are looking for ways to motivate their base and reach out to moderate-minded voters.
Mr. Obama and fellow Democrats have sought to cast the contest as a choice between two parties, rather than as a referendum on their performance while controlling all the reins of government for the last 20 months.
Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine kicked off the fall campaign season earlier this month by singling out some of the most “extreme” positions of the Republican Party’s more conservative candidates, saying some of them want “to shut down the Department of Education” and to “end Social Security.”
But if Monday’s town-hall meeting was any indication, that message is not resonating with voters and Obama supporters who are showing signs of becoming disillusioned with the administration.
“I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for and deeply disappointed with where we are right now,” said a black woman who identified herself as a chief financial officer of Amvets, a veterans service organization.
Later, a supporter went so far as to ask Mr. Obama, “Is the American dream dead for me?”