It's time to make youth unemployment the focus of our national attention (36211)

While the Republican candidates were centering their divisive and tone-deaf campaigns on Michigan and preparing for Super Tuesday, President Obama was channeling his old campaign persona while offering a resounding defense of his decision to help save the American automobile industry.

Speaking at a convention of the United Auto Workers in Washington, Obama gave an inspiring and rousing speech that addressed a number of themes, from the role of unions in American life to the urgency of the bailout of the auto industry.

“The heartbeat of American manufacturing was flat-lining, and we had to make a choice,” Obama told a cheering crowd. “Some politicians even said we should let Detroit go bankrupt. Think about what that choice would have meant for this country, if we had turned our backs on you, if America had thrown in the towel. GM and Chrysler wouldn’t exist today.”

Saving the industry, Obama said, amounted to saving not just jobs, but resuscitating American’s manufacturing might. “If that’s not worth fighting for, what’s worth fighting for?”

Then the president continued, taking a pointed stab at his Republican rivals: “You wanna talk about values? Hard work, that’s a value. Looking out for one another, that’s a value. The idea that we’re all in it together and I’m my brother’s keeper and sister’s keeper, that’s a value.”

It was brilliant theater before a thunderous crowd. But more than that, it made the point that the Obama administration’s controversial decision to rescue the nation’s auto industry – a decision lambasted by both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum — had paid off robustly.

However, at the same time, the stirring speech highlights one of the president’s most pressing lapses. The administration seems to be utterly reticent to blow its own horn about the policies and initiatives that have been so successful. In order to counter the viciously negative and personal attacks from the fanatical right, the president and his campaign folks need to match them with equally aggressive portraits of the successes of his three years in office.

Take the administration’s health care program. Somehow, the Republicans have been able to define the Obama health care reforms on their own terms. The very mention of what they call “Obama-care,” comes off their lips in the way people describe some unsightly scab.

In fact, the president’s reforms have made health care far more affordable for millions of Americans while expanding the number of people who can obtain coverage. It also prevents insurers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions, illuminating a problem that was particularly vexing in Black and Latino communities. It’s a narrative the president’s campaign needs to own and tout unabashedly.

For too long now, the nation’s attention has been focused on the ranting and maneuvering of Republicans in areas that are far removed from the pressing matters of the day. The Republicans are engaged in the an effort remake American into a land where voting becomes more challenging for Black people and students, where women have to fight to get contraception and to make decisions on their own health and where public officials determine public policy through their narrow, hard-hearted view of religion.

While Santorum — a man with three degrees — centers his campaign on mindless criticisms of Obama for wanting students to have the opportunity to attend college (can there any be any insanity more numbing than chastising a desire for higher education?), the president needs to press the case even more fervently that the rescue of the auto industry has protected and expanded good-paying jobs that enable families to send their children to college.

While Romney continues even now to criticize the bail out of Detroit as “crony capitalism on a grand scale,” the president and his surrogates need to be even more vocal about how the rebound in Detroit has affected jobs – and lives – in every community across the nation where there are suppliers and companies that do business with the Big Three automakers.

The fact of the matter is that Obama has an incredible record on which to run – not even including his foreign policy initiatives where the death of bin Laden is but the icing on the cake.

With daily, bitter and outrageous attacks from the Republicans accusing the president of everything from elitism to being, as Newt Gingrich said, “the most dangerous president in modern American history,” Obama needs sell his own well-tempered message of accomplishment and job creation far more boldly. Ultimately, Americans will surely be compelled by the sharp contrast and do the right thing.