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Obama calls GOP 'dead wrong' for saying US in decline

President Barack Obama offered an optimistic message on the campaign trail in Florida. He said America, diverse and talented, is still on top, and promised to reduce the deficit without harming the middle class. 

By Jim KuhnhennAssociated Press / September 8, 2012

President Barack Obama poses with crowd members after speaking at a campaign event at Natural Habitat Park Field on the St. Petersburg College Seminole Campus in Florida September 8.

Larry Downing/Reuters

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Seminole, Fla.

President Barack Obama on Saturday pronounced Republicans "dead wrong" in calling America a country in decline, offering a rebuttal to the "naysayers" who drew attention to the nation's staggering debt and anemic job growth.

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Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney clawed for advantage in a post-convention push through some of the most closely contested states that marked the opening of the homestretch of the tight race.

Obama told a spirited rally that America's "basic bargain" is at stake in the election, the promise that "if you work hard it will pay off." He pledged to make education more affordable, reduce dependence on foreign oil and slash deficits "without sticking it to the middle class" if he gets another term.

Romney, who spent much of the week preparing for debates and laying low during the Democratic convention, was back in motion with a planned Virginia Beach rally and visit to a NASCAR rally in Richmond, Va.,

Virginia and Florida are two of a handful of states that could determine the outcome of the election.

Obama reached for some Ronald Reagan-like optimism in hard times, telling his audience that much about America is essentially right.

"When our opponents say this nation is in decline they are dead wrong," he said. "This is America. We still have the best workers in the world and the best entrepreneurs in the world. We've got the best scientists and the best researchers. We've got the best colleges and the best universities."

He went on: "We are a young nation with the greatest diversity of talent and ingenuity from every corner of the globe so no matter what the naysayers may say for political reasons, no matter how dark they try to make everything look, there's not a country on Earth that wouldn't gladly trade places with the United States of America."

Days earlier, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan noted that the national debt was reported to have passed $16 trillion on the first day of the Democratic convention. "That's a country in decline," Ryan said.

Unemployment remains stubbornly high, clocking in at 8.1 percent on Friday and keeping joblessness and economic weakness on the boil as top campaign issues.

Obama opened a two-day bus tour in Florida, campaigning in a state with the highest elderly population and an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent, higher than the national average.

As both candidates enter the final two-month sprint to the election, Romney is casting Obama as an inept steward of the nation's post-recession recovery. It's a portrayal Obama has been fighting for months as the unemployment rate sticks stubbornly above 8 percent.

On Friday, the government reported that employers added just 96,000 jobs in August and that, aided by frustrated job hunters giving up, the jobless rate dropped only marginally from 8.3 percent the month before.

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