Obama praises John McCain as he sharpens rhetoric against GOP

At campaign fund-raisers and rallies, President Obama is contrasting the Republicans of today with John McCain and others in the GOP who were more willing to work in bipartisan fashion.

Toby Talbot/AP
President Barack Obama greets the crowd in Burlington, Vt., Friday, March 30. The president was in Vermont and Maine on a quick campaign swing that included a series of fundraisers.

Team Obama has been saying all along that the 2012 election will be about contrasts, not just a referendum on the president. Now there’s a new wrinkle: President Obama has taken to complimenting 2008 GOP nominee John McCain, though not by name, in contrast with the Republicans of today.

At two high-dollar fundraisers Friday, one in Burlington, Vt., the other in Portland, Me., Mr. Obama spoke of his 2008 rival’s willingness to work in a bipartisan fashion.  

“In 2008, I was running against a candidate who believed in climate change, believed in immigration reform, believed in the notion of reducing deficits in a balanced way,” Obama told a luncheon attended by about 100 donors at the Sheraton Burlington Hotel on Friday.

By “balanced,” the president means a willingness to consider raising taxes on the wealthy alongside cuts in spending to reduce the deficit.  

“We had some profound disagreements, but the Republican candidate for president understood that some of these challenges required compromise and bipartisanship,” Obama continued.  “And what we’ve witnessed lately is a fundamentally different vision of America and who we are. It’s an America that says – or it’s a vision that says that America is about looking out for yourself, not for other people.” 

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The president echoed those comments at a fundraising dinner that night at the Portland Museum of Art.  

“We probably have not seen an election where the contrast is that sharp between the two parties as in this election,” Obama said, before talking about the 2008 nominee.  

At his other two fundraisers Friday, both low-dollar events that felt like campaign rallies, Obama didn’t reference Senator McCain. Instead he ramped up the rhetoric against today’s Republicans in arena speeches aimed at firing up his liberal base, especially the youth vote.  

“Their philosophy is simple:  You are on your own,” Obama told a raucous crowd of 4,500 at the University of Vermont field house. “You’re on your own.  If you are out of work, can’t find a job, tough luck, you’re on your own.  You don’t have health care – that’s your problem, you’re on your own. If you’re born into poverty, lift yourself up with your own bootstraps even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.”

It was the first visit to Vermont by a sitting president since 1995, according to the Obama campaign.

Amid reports that Democrats are even less enthusiastic than Republicans about the 2012 election, Obama also brought back some of the rhetoric of 2008 about “change,” though in the context of highlighting what he sees as his biggest accomplishments to date.

“When you think back over the last three years, I want you to know that because of what you did in 2008, we’ve begun to see what change looks like,” Obama told some 1,800 people at Southern Maine Community College in Portland.  

“Change is the first bill I signed into law – a law that says a woman deserves an equal day’s pay for an equal day’s work. That’s the kind of change we believed in,” Obama said, building to a crescendo as he highlighted other “change” moments – the rescue of the auto industry, raising fuel-efficiency standards, and student-loan reform.

“And, yes, Maine, change is the health-care reform that we passed after a century of trying – (applause) – because we believe that in America, in this great country of ours, nobody should go bankrupt just because they get sick,” Obama said.

In all four of his fundraising events Friday, the president did not mention the historic three days of Supreme Court argument on health reform earlier in the week – or predictions that some or all of the law could be struck down.

But former Sen. George Mitchell (D) of Maine, who served the Obama White House as a special Middle East envoy, didn’t shy away from the topic in his warm-up remarks to the crowd at Southern Maine Community College.

“The Supreme Court should stay out of politics,” former Senator Mitchell said.

Friday’s four fundraisers came as the first quarter of 2012 was drawing to a close, and the campaign sought to post the largest numbers possible. And while Vermont and Maine are both seen as firmly in the Obama column for November, there is money to be tapped. Tickets for the high-dollar event in Burlington started at $7,500 and in Portland, at $5,000. At the larger events in both cities, there were some student/activist tickets for $44; general admission started at $100 per person, the campaign said.

Also on Friday, first lady Michelle Obama headlined a fundraiser before about 350 people at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. In her remarks, she steered clear of attacking the Republicans and instead talked about her husband’s accomplishments and the stakes in 2012. Like her husband, she urged the young people present to get involved.

“You can get out there with your parents,” Mrs. Obama said. “You guys can knock on doors. “ 

Vice President Biden also got into the campaigning act this past week, but unlike his boss, he went after the Republican candidates extensively – and by name – fulfilling the typical role of running mate as attack dog.

“Look, folks, conventional wisdom that manufacturing is dead in this country is dead wrong – dead wrong – and we’ve got to maintain this momentum,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday in remarks at PCT Engineering in Davenport, Iowa. “But if you’ll forgive me for saying this, one thing that could bring this momentum to a screeching halt is turning over the keys of the White House to [Rick] Santorum or [Mitt] Romney.” 

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