* Obama strikes populist tone
* Seeks to channel Theodore Roosevelt
* Republicans say speech is bid to distract
By Jeff Mason
OSAWATOMIE, Kansas, Dec 6 U.S. President Barack
Obama turned up the heat on his Republican foes on Tuesday as
he portrayed himself as a champion of the middle class and laid
out in the starkest terms yet the populist themes of his 2012
In a speech meant to echo a historic address given by
former President Theodore Roosevelt in the same Kansas town
more than 100 years ago, Obama pressed his case for economic
policies he insists will benefit ordinary Americans struggling
through hard times.
He seized the opportunity to step up pressure on
congressional Republicans to extend an expiring payroll tax cut
that independent economists say is needed to keep the fragile
economic recovery from unraveling.
But Obama's broader message was a call for people to get a
"fair shot" and a "fair share" as he pushed for wealthier
Americans to pay higher taxes and for Wall Street and Big
Business to play by the rules.
"This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class,"
Obama said in Osawatomie in eastern Kansas. "At stake is
whether this will be a country where working people can earn
enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home,
and secure their retirement."
With the 2012 presidential election just 11 months away,
Obama's trip was part of a strategy by the president and his
fellow Democrats to cast the Republicans as the party beholden
to the rich.
Many Republican lawmakers are skeptical that extending the
tax cut beyond this year will spur job creation.
But Republican leaders, fearing a possible backlash from
voters in the 2012 ballot, have expressed a willingness to find
a way to prevent the tax cuts from lapsing. But they remain at
odds with Obama and his Democrats on how to fund it.
Obama used his speech to accuse Republicans of suffering
from "collective amnesia" about the recent economic and
financial crisis, and he strongly defended his Wall Street
regulatory overhaul that many Republicans opposed.
Though polls show most Americans support Obama's effort to
increase taxes on the wealthy, his public approval ratings
remain in the low to mid-40 percent range.
Republicans charged that Obama's latest speech, as well as
a series of campaign-style trips to push his stalled $447
billion jobs plan, was intended to distract from the struggling
economy and persistently high unemployment, considered damaging
for his re-election chances.