Obama promotes populist agenda at DNC
By: Reid J. Epstein
February 28, 2014 06:47 PM EST
President Barack Obama pushed Democrats’ 2014 campaign message Friday: heavy on a populist economic message, women’s issues and health care.
And in his first public remarks on the Arizona bill Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed Thursday that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays and others based on religious beliefs, Obama said “some states are even pushing laws to legalize segregation based on sexual orientation.”
“Freedom is the ability to go into a store and a restaurant and know that you won't be refused service because of who you are or who you love,” he said.
In a speech to the Democratic National Committee filled with laugh lines delivered less than an hour after he delivered a stern warning to Russia about the unfolding situation in Ukraine, Obama delineated a populist Democratic agenda that seeks to make tether Republicans with established and unloved big businesses – insurance companies, banks and real estate operators that sunk the economy.
In a clear foreshadowing of the message Obama will bring to the midterm election campaign, he told fellow Democrats they should reclaim a redefined freedom agenda from Republicans while bashing them on social issues.
“As Democrats, we’ve let the other side define the word freedom for too long,” Obama said. “Freedom doesn’t mean the ability to ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Freedom isn’t I’ve got no obligations to anybody, I’ve got no responsibility for anybody.”
Throughout the 34-minute speech at the Capital Hilton, Obama rapped congressional Republicans for their obsession with repealing his signature health care law and adherence to economic policies he blamed for the Great Depression and the latest recession.
“The 50th time” House Republicans seek to repeal Obamacare, he said, “might be the charm.”
Obama drew his biggest applause lines for his defense of the health care law and his efforts to equalize pay for men and women.
“I saw some Republicans in Congress brought in outside aides to tell them how to talk to women,” Obama said. “It is unclear how they’ve gotten this far without that particular skill.”
Obama will raise $810,000 for the DNC at a small fundraiser Friday afternoon after his speech. Vice President Joe Biden will appear at a DNC fundraiser in Phoenix, where 70 donors will pay between $500 and $32,400 to hear him, a DNC official said.
The president’s appearance before the DNC was delayed for nearly 45 minutes after he delivered late-scheduled on the situation in Ukraine at the White House. Obama said he is “deeply concerned” about reports Russian troops entered Ukrainian territory. He said “there will be costs for any military intervention.”
Obama did not mention the Ukrainian situation in his speech to the DNC delegates, though when a heckler yelled for Obama to “tell us about your plan for nuclear war with Russia,” Obama responded, “What the heck are you talking about?”
Of the November midterm elections, Obama echoed a theme Biden struck during his remarks to the DNC Thursday: That Democrats have an unshakable demographic majority, if only they can motivate their supporters to vote.
Former President Bill Clinton, added to that in a video message played for delegates prior to Obama’s planned remarks. He said if the DNC succeeds in expanding the universe of American voters it will help Democrats up and down the ballot.
“Maybe if more people’s voices were heard there’d be more cooperation and less gridlock in Washington,” Clinton said. “Of course, that’s what scares the opponents – they want to have fewer people to vote.”