- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Democrats eyeing the White House in 2016 lined up behind the liberal rallying cry President Obama issued in his State of the Union address — with the exception of former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who took shots at the president’s foreign policy and said the country shouldn’t be divided into rich, middle and poor classes.

In his speech Tuesday, Mr. Obama called for higher taxes on the wealthy, matched with tax cuts for the poor and more government spending, in what he labeled “middle-class economics.”

While his proposals have little chance of the passing the Republican-controlled Congress this year, analysts said the president also was trying to set the parameters for the debate over his successor.

Most Democrats eagerly got on board with Mr. Obama’s newly progressive agenda, embracing the president much more closely than they have in recent months.

Front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton personally gave a glowing review of the speech Tuesday night, saying it “pointed [the] way to an economy that works for all.”

“Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class,” Mrs. Clinton said on Twitter.

On Wednesday, the PAC promoting a Clinton candidacy, Ready For Hillary, sent out an email encouraging Democrats to “join Hillary and the president” and fight for the middle class.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, independent Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont — both pondering a run for president as a Democrat — and others also praised the speech, which analysts say could go a long way toward helping Mr. Obama drive the agenda of the Democratic party as it chooses its next presidential candidate.

“It tees up the argument for 2016 that, presumably, Hillary Clinton will have to deliver,” said Matthew Dallek, a political science professor at George Washington University who specializes in political leadership and the presidency. “The speech … gives Hillary Clinton the elements of some things to run on. It continues this argument with the Republican party about taxes and spending.”

But not everyone was fully on board with what the president had to say in his first State of the Union address of the lame-duck era.

Mr. Webb, likely to challenge the Clinton juggernaut in 2016, hinted Mr. Obama’s message of middle-class economics is divisive.

“Not a fan of the ‘middle class’ lingo. Fighting for hard working Americans and small businesses isn’t about class,” he said on Twitter as the speech unfolded.

He also took shots at the administration’s foreign policy, saying it has “become tangled in what can only be called situational ethics.”

By seemingly rejecting Mr. Obama’s “middle-class economics” message, Mr. Webb is differentiating himself from his potential primary election foes, all of whom latched on to the president’s rhetoric.

“The biggest challenge we face as Americans is making our economy work for all of us. The president’s speech tonight reflected the urgency of that challenge,” Mr. O’Malley said in a statement after the State of the Union address. “A stronger middle class is the cause — not the consequence — of economic growth. Our policy imperatives must reflect this basic economic truth.”

Mr. Sanders, a self-described socialist who likely would be the most liberal voice in the Democratic primary, also gave the speech a positive review.

“I support many of the initiatives the president outlined,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the president and my colleagues in the Senate to expand the middle class.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, tweeted “great speech, Mr. President,” after the address. Ms. Warren has vowed she won’t run for president, but powerful progressive groups are urging her to do so.

Not surprisingly, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who admittedly is considering a run for president, also backed the president’s agenda and touted the administration’s record over the past six years.

“What caused the recovery were the programs that, in fact, we put in place,” he told CBS on Wednesday. “All the president’s saying is don’t stop the momentum now — you’re acknowledging there’s real momentum. Now let’s keep it going. Let’s get the middle class a better deal.”

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