After a Rough Week, Obama Goes for Catharsis in Vermont

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The affable, jokey president was nowhere to be found on Friday, as Obama gave a combative, populist speech and slammed the GOP.

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Reuters

It's been a bad week for Barack Obama. He started things off on the wrong foot with a hot-mic snafu in Seoul, and things only went downhill from there, culminating in a train wreck for the administration's case during Supreme Court oral arguments on the health-care reform law. Outwardly, the White House is reacting with equanimity, saying the president is optimistic about the court's decision and praising Solicitor General Donald Verrilli's widely panned performance.

But if Obama's speech at the University of Vermont Friday afternoon is any indication, he's pretty charged up. The president sounded like a man with something to get off his chest, giving an aggressive speech full of red meat and strong swipes at his opponents (though never by name).

Obama took off his jacket at the start of the speech (which you can watch here), and he was loose throughout. But this was not the joking, affable Obama who we've seen on the stump at other times in recent weeks. This was an angry Obama, who punctuated his applause lines with a stare, not a grin, and whose voice was often strained to the point of hoarseness.

The main focus of the speech was a populist attack on Republican domestic policy ideas, which he portrayed as a return to past disastrous economic periods -- including both the run-up to the Great Depression and the Bush era: "We just tried this. What they're peddling has been tried. It did not work." Here's more:

They want to go back to the days when Wall Street played by it's own rules, they want to go back to the days when insurance companies could do whatever they wanted to you, they want to continue to spend trillions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals in America, even if it means adding to the deficit, or gutting education, or gutting investment in clean energy, or hurting Medicare. Their philosophy is simple: You are on your own.

This is not just your usual run-of-the-mill political debate, this is the defining issue of our time, a make-or-break moment for the middle class. That's what we gotta fight for .... This is not class envy. This is not class warfare. This is basic math.

Elsewhere, he said Abraham Lincoln couldn't win the nomination in today's Republican Party.

As for health-care reform, he trumpeted the Affordable Care Act briefly early on, but didn't directly address the Supreme Court hearings -- although he seemed to make an oblique reference to conservative arguments that the individual mandate is a dangerous imposition on freedom. Speaking broadly about the social safety net, Obama said, "That's the cramped, narrow conception they have of liberty. And they are wrong."

Is Obama angry? The White House might say no. But it sure seems that way.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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