This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 8, 2011 - David Axelrod, the chief campaign strategist for President Barack Obama, denies that he's accusing national Republicans of "trying to tank the economy to defeat the president."
But he drew deafening applause at Monday's luncheon of Barbara Eagleton's Democratic Women's Forum when -- after emphasizing what he wasn't saying about Republicans -- Axelrod added, "If that were their plan, they wouldn't behave any differently than they are right now."
Axelrod offered up a rather blunt assessment of the opposition as he made his case in favor of Obama's re-election before more than 400 area Democrats packing a ballroom at the Frontenac Hilton.
Axelrod said that after watching the numerous televised debates featuring the crop of Republican challengers, he has concluded that there are "a lot of nutty folks over there'' who espouse the fiscal policies -- tax cuts for the wealthy and little financial regulation -- that he said helped create the nation's economic problems.
"We know for an absolute fact that we can't get there (improve the economy) by going back to what we were doing before the crisis hit," Axelrod said.
Axelrod's assertions won cheers from the supportive audience. But several complained during the question-answer session that they have rarely heard such vigorous defense of the Obama administration's policies -- or such a sharp contrast with his Republican critics. The questioners made clear that they wished they had.
Axelrod explained during a brief interview afterward that the administration has sought to avoid "triumphalism." But he also emphasized that the president, his campaign and his surrogates also have been more aggressive in their attacks and defense in recent months.
Axelrod's stop in St. Louis also came amid increased signs that the Obama campaign is looking at Missouri as a place to raise money, not spend it.
Axelrod headlined a private $2,500-a-person fundraiser Monday night co-hosted by Tom Carnahan and Josephine Weil. Weil is the wife of Richard Weil, chairman of the board for the St. Louis Beacon.
Tom Carnahan is a lawyer/businessman who is the youngest son of former Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., who also attended Monday's luncheon and who had campaigned for Obama extensively in 2008.
Tom Carnahan had cohosted a fundraising event a month ago that was headlined by Obama himself. The president held no public events during that Oct. 4 St. Louis visit -- another indication that his campaign assumes that Missouri will likely favor the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, regardless of his GOP rival's eventual identity.
Missouri was the only swing state in 2008 that Obama failed to carry in his national victory over Republican John McCain.
During his address at the forum luncheon, Axelrod chose not to talk about the campaign's political opinion of Missouri, choosing instead to lay out national campaign themes.
Focus on Shrinking Middle Class
Monday's partisan luncheon crowd listened intently as Axelrod painted a portrait of a middle class under distress for decades.
"For 35 years after World War II, average wages rose" as the nation's overall economy prospered, Axelrod said, proving that "the rising tide did lift all boats."
"For the past 30 years, it has been different," Axelrod continued. "The middle class is shrinking. Financial inequality is the widest it has been since the 1920s."
The typical American worker is now making the average wage for 1996, he said, while the typical male worker "has to go back to 1973.''
Referring indirectly to the Occupy Wall Street protests around the country, including St. Louis, Axelrod said that most Americans "didn't need the kids in the street. They feel it in their own experience. This is the challenge of our time."
Stagnant wages and higher living costs -- he noted that college costs have gone up 400 percent over the last 25 years -- first forced most families to have two wage earners if they were to maintain a middle-class lifestyle, Axelrod said. He added that the economic pressures of the last decade then prompted a borrowing binge fueled by falsely high property values.
The upshot, as he viewed it: "The whole American Dream was leveraged. In the fall of 2008, that house of cards collapsed."
Axelrod's sobering assessment came after he first had listed the Obama administration's achievements, which he said were shared by Democratic supporters like those in the ballroom.
Among other things, Axelrod cited Obama's support of scientific research, his selection of two women to the U.S. Supreme Court, his order allowing gays to serve openly in the military, his success in killing terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, his financial support of the U.S. auto industry and the president's push to change the nation's health insurance system.
Obama recognized that some of his actions -- notably the auto bailout and the health-care law -- were initially unpopular, according to public opinion polls, Axelrod said. But the president pressed on anyway, Axelrod continued, because he believed such actions were best for the country.
Axelrod repeated the frequent Obama administration complaint, of late, that the White House and its Democratic allies have had to grapple from the beginning with solid Republican opposition -- which he portrayed as becoming even more intransigent as 2012 looms.
"One reason we need to win this election... we can't let that strategy of obstruction win," Axelrod asserted. "We can't let that prevail. We can't let it be rewarded. We have to break that fever and make it possible for people of good will to work together again.''
Axelrod contended that some Republicans privately support many of the president's proposals: "I want to make it safe for them to come out from under the rocks."