RENO, Nev — Sen. Barack Obama doubled down in gambling country Tuesday, telling a morning rally at a university here that Congress must pass a bailout plan to tackle the financial problems that are "no longer just a Wall Street crisis, [but] an American crisis."
"It's the American economy that needs this rescue plan," Obama told 12,000 millennials in a serious, impassioned tone.
For the first time, the Democratic presidential nominee explicitly hitched his ongoing argument about social change to the financial crisis, arguing that the nation must transcend its differences and unite behind the bailout.
It was his most dramatic economic address since the financial crisis began. In contrast to the parsing that passed for policy leadership at last week's first presidential debate, Obama emphatically advocated an urgent bailout, regardless of public opinion or partisan squabbling.
"To the Democrats and Republicans who opposed this plan yesterday, I say – step up to the plate and do what's right for this country," he told the crowd packed into the quad at the University of Nevada at Reno.
Then Obama offered a new narrative, one that many Americans may resist: He cast the bailout as another historic American achievement — a challenging but invigorating opportunity to come together for the common good.
"This country and the dream it represents are being tested in a way that we haven't seen in nearly a century. And future generations will judge ours by how we respond to this test," he said. "Will they say that this was a time when America lost its way and its purpose? When we allowed our own petty differences and broken politics to plunge this country into a dark and painful recession? Or will they say that this was another one of those moments when America overcame? When we battled back from adversity by recognizing that common stake that we have in each other's success?"
By now, such rhetoric is familiar to the public: Obama's knack for fusing the language of (progressive) movement organizing with (conservative) American exceptionalism. Today, he took a risk by wrapping it around a deeply unpopular and complex measure that is widely seen as a sop for reckless elites. It was MLK meets CNBC.
"I believe that this is one of those moments. I know that many of you are anxious about your future and the future of this country," Obama continued. "Despite all of this, I ask you to believe – believe in this country and your ability to change it. I ask you what has been asked of the American people in times of trial and turmoil throughout our history – what was asked at the beginning of the greatest financial crisis this nation has ever endured. In his first fireside chat, Franklin Roosevelt told his fellow Americans that "..there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people themselves. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. Let us unite in banishing fear. Together, we cannot fail."
Obama channeled FDR's era — the fear of depression and the promise of a populist agenda — to recast the bailout as a working-class imperative:
"America, together, we cannot fail. Not now. Not when we have a crisis to solve and an economy to save. Not when there are so many Americans without jobs and without homes. Not when there are families who can't afford to see a doctor, or send their child to college, or pay their bills at the end of the month. Not when there is a generation that is counting on us to give them the same opportunities and the same chances that we had for ourselves," he said, his voice hitting the characteristic intensity that rounds out Big Speeches.
"Now is the time to make them proud of what we did here. Let's give our children the future they deserve, and let's act with confidence and courage to show the world that at this moment, in this election, the United States of America is still the last, best hope of Earth."
It was the kind of grand, sprawling argument that Obama makes better than most politicians alive — whether you agree with him or not. Right now, most American don't.